In the state of Kansas, water depletion is a fear that some residents are banding together to solve. With the passage of state legislation in Kansas in 2016 that allows for small groups, like individual families, to larger groups of people to come together and steward water; here, the Wichita County Water Conservation Area was formed. Starting out with ten people, the bottom-up effort for a local initiative to monitor water usage took flight.
Producers, feedlots, and the local school board make up a group of ten members that come from a variety of different and unique backgrounds to bring their personal experiences and skills together to form a pact to make a difference in Wichita County. The intent is for the community to develop a sustainable, strategic plan for conservation with the help of the matching partners and funds from the ten original founders of the WCA. The group has successfully become one of the first in Kansas to self-monitor water usage. Each member of the WCA is a water rights holder, and the WCA has a goal to get at least 50% of the water right holders in the county on board. So just what plan did the Wichita Country WCA come up with? They hired the Kansas Geological Society to conduct 25 different scenarios to find the most achievable level of water the WCA use. There was an understanding that each member is most likely at a different starting point in their own conservation efforts, and starting off at an extremely high control of water conservation is not feasible if the plan is to continue. In the end, the goal is for its members to extend the aquifer for one generation to 25 years with the hopes that technology and the economy will have a more sound solution to the aquifer’s depletion. With this in mind, the WCA and its members use a system of averaging the individual’s past seven years of water usage. From there, the individual is allotted 29% of that water, which must be conserved. Each year, the individual must conserve 1% more water. The members are signed on to be committed to this management plan for a span of seven years.
For some in the county, self-mandating water is a foreign concept. The WCA has met some resistance, but as one member put it, “I want to look back and know that I was on the right side of history.” Before the planning even began, each member was asked at a meeting to go around the room and express just why this extensive conservation was important to them. What the group found is that it is about continuing a legacy and knowing that their community will have a chance to thrive for generations to come. Starting this voluntary movement is an effort to be the tipping point where the Wichita County WCA members become the majority in the community for the economy hopes will remain and be nurtured.
Since its founding, the Wichita County Water Conservation Area has held multiple meetings and workshops to better equip their members with water conservation knowledge like a water probe workshop to understand soil profiles. The WCA hopes that other communities and even family farms will take the initiative like them to conserve in order to extend the life of the Ogallala. Taking the first step is hard, but for this WCA, who has already taken the plunge, it is vital for the future to prove that taking the initiative will pay off in the long run.