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Agriculture

Farmers Not Using Law Allowing Deep Irrigation Reductions

Little use is being made of a law that allows farmers to form groups that can require deep reductions in irrigation.

The hope was that if enough western Kansas farmers pared their water use, the Ogallalah aquifer's lifespan could be extended. Two years later though, only one group of 110 farmers, who own 99 square miles in Sheridan and Thomas counties near Colby, has formed.

A second group of farmers also attempted to create a so-called LEMA, or Local Enhanced Management Area, in Wichita, Scott, Lane, Greeley and Wallace. In that area, the aquifer is so shallow that some farmers already don't have enough water pressure left to irrigate.

Kansas Water Office director Tracy Streeter says there were expectations of the program "catching on like wildfire."

Haskell County farmer Jay Garetson says farmers were never going to cut their use of water without mandates, because it could harm them economically in the short term.

Last year, a Kansas State University study found if water use remains the same, the Ogallalah aquifer will be 70 percent depleted by 2060. The study projects the aquifer could last another 100 years if all farmers were to cut their use by 20 percent.