MANHATTAN, Kan. — This spring will see the first district-wide Local Enhanced Management Area, or LEMA, in place in Kansas, as Northwest Kansas Groundwater Management District 4’s LEMA plan has been approved and will be effective for the period 2018-2022. On Thursday, March 1, the board of directors for GMD 4 in northwest Kansas voted unanimously to approve the chief engineer’s proposed modifications to their LEMA proposal. GMD 4 includes all or parts of 10 counties and covers just over 3 million acres in northwest Kansas.
A LEMA is a tool that allows GMDs to set goals and control measures to aid in water conservation, at the approval of the chief engineer. One of the guiding principles of the state’s Water Vision is that locally driven solutions have the highest opportunity for long-term success, and LEMAs were created to give local stakeholders a tool to act on their shared commitment to ensuring a reliable water supply. This region’s priority goal within the Water Vision was to develop and adopt a water conservation plan that provides maximum flexibility while reducing overall actual use in declining areas, in concert with GMD 4, to extend the aquifer life and long-term economic well-being of the region.
GMD 4 submitted its LEMA proposal to the chief engineer of the Kansas Department of Agriculture Division of Water Resources in June 2017, with the goal of reducing decline rates and extending the life of the Ogallala Aquifer in northwest Kansas. The LEMA sets water right allocations in townships of the district based on the rate of decline, and establishes enhanced compliance guidelines. Areas with the greatest rate of decline in the aquifer have the most significant restrictions; townships showing little to no decline will not be affected. GMD 4 will host educational meetings over the next few weeks to help clarify how the LEMA’s restrictions will affect water users.
After an extended public hearing process, the chief engineer returned the proposal to the GMD 4 board with modifications in late February, and the modified proposal was accepted by the board. The final step in the process is for the chief engineer to issue an order of designation, which is anticipated by mid-April.
The GMD 4 LEMA will be the second LEMA in Kansas, and was motivated by the notable successes achieved by the first LEMA. The Sheridan 6 LEMA within GMD 4 was established in 2013 with the goal of reducing water use by 20 percent. In 2017, new data collected showed that indeed the 99-square-mile area included in the LEMA has seen notable reductions in the rate of water-level decline. In fact, in the decade prior to the establishment of the LEMA, the rate of decline in the area was about 23 inches per year; in the first three years of the LEMA, the rate of decline was reduced to a little under 5 inches per year. The Sheridan 6 LEMA has been extended for an additional five years.