The Sheridan-6 Local Enhanced Management Area (LEMA) is a successful locally driven water conservation plan. In 2001 the Kansas Water Plan called for water management practices that would extend and conserve the life of the Ogallala Aquifer. Farmers and area residents knew something must be done to address the declines in the groundwater sources if they wanted to continue to have viable communities and industry. The Groundwater Management District No. 4 (GMD4) board chose to implement recommendations determined by two state-appointed committees to update their Revised Management Plan which led to establishing the district’s High Priority Areas (HPAs).
Sheridan-6 (SD-6), 99 square miles in Sheridan and Thomas counties, was one of the determined HPAs. Initial conversations and community meetings in SD-6 began in November of 2008, and over the next four years the SD-6 LEMA proposal was created by the locals. In July of 2012 the SD-6 Enhanced Management Proposal was submitted, and the final LEMA Order of Designation was signed on April 17, 2013. The initial SD-6 LEMA required that all water rights therein (non-domestic) entered into a five-year plan running from 2013-2017 to use nearly 20 percent less water to slow Ogallala Aquifer declines. For irrigation use it allowed an annual average of 11 inches/acre or 55 inches over a five-year period giving producers the flexibility of when to use their water.
After completion of the five-year plan, GMD4 and SD-6 are proud to share the first ever LEMA was successful. Water level declines have slowed from an average of 1.5 feet per year from 2008-2013 to 0.68 feet per year from 2013-2017. This has led to a decrease in the rate of aquifer decline within the LEMA boundaries with some areas showing an increase in groundwater levels. Work completed by Dr. Bill Golden has shown that irrigators within SD-6 embraced new technology and cropping practices allowing them to maintain profit margins despite a cut in water use.
Following the success of the original SD-6 LEMA a plan was submitted on February 2nd, 2017 requesting an additional five-years from 2018-2022. The new proposal, which added a 5 inches per program acre carry-over, went into effect per the Order of Designation signed on November 7, 2017. The SD6-LEMA is the first locally developed and legally binding conservation plan established in the Ogallala-High Plains Aquifer with many hopes it will be replicated across the region and even in other states. This leading example has been featured in several publications across the nation as well. The LEMA has sparked a tremendous increase in dialogue for others, emphasizing the importance of local problem solving, involvement and education.