Water Conservation Plan: Sheridan-6 Local Enhanced Management Area (LEMA)

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.

Lower Smoky Access District

The Lower Smoky Access District provides the opportunity for surface water users along the Smoky Hill River, below Kanopolis Lake, to obtain long-term water storage in Kanopolis to back up their water rights when natural flows do not meet their needs. The Access District can include the special irrigation district, municipalities, industries and recreational water-right holders that want to participate. Other eligible surface water users may join the Access District in the future to back up their authorized water rights at their chosen level.

Since formation the Access District had contracted for storage space in Kanopolis and entered into an operations agreement with Kansas Water Office and KDA-Division of Water Resources. In 2017 streamflow and storage has been healthy, so the benefits have not been measurable. However, the process to get access to storage for downstream users already resulted in changing reservoir releases to meet target flows, a more efficient use of available water than prior operations. In 2012 the savings was estimated at 1600 acre-feet of water quality storage. This is a success story of forming partnerships and working toward a common goal to better manage and use water resources. The improved management provides more stable reservoir levels, improving the availability of water in times of drought.

McCarty Family Farms, LLC

McCarty Family Farms, LLC is a Kansas dairy focusing on the role of water conservation in their operations. Today, they have three dairy farms in western Kansas. Transitioning from a farm milking 150 cows in a water-abundant area to a herd of over 7,000 head in a water-scarce area required the McCarty family to adapt their management style to accommodate the climate of western Kansas. Maximizing cow comfort and productivity while minimizing water use was a challenge the McCarty Family was not accustomed to facing but realized it was one that could be overcome with the right mindset, practices and partnerships.

Water supply issues in Kansas have impacted the thought process of the McCarty Family in many ways. First and foremost, conservation of water, as well as the maximization of productivity of each gallon pumped, is a paramount thought on all of the McCarty Family’s operations. This has led to utilizing fewer water-intensive crops (e.g., sorghum) to feed their herds, re-examining how they do business (e.g., condensing milk) to even where they focus their growth. The condensing of milk has allowed the extraction of more than 14 million gallons of water from the milk each year and more than 39,000 gallons every day. Water is even removed from the milk before it is shipped to ensure all water stays in western Kansas and at the dairy. McCarty Family Farms have made it their motto to live to improve their environment, the communities they live in as well as be as progressive as possible when it comes to conserving their water resources.

Wenstrom Farms

Richard and Jane Wenstrom’s farm sits on the Great Bend Prairie Aquifer near Kinsley, Kansas. Raising irrigated corn and soybeans with some alfalfa and small amounts of wheat over the limited water resource, they know the extreme importance of irrigation scheduling. As far back as the 1970s, Richard began gathering data and monitoring his water use. He started implementing computer software programs starting in 1980 before many farmers even had computers. Richard was known as one of the first large-scale irrigators who used soil-based irrigation scheduling techniques but was also an early adopter of climatic- or evapotranspiration-based irrigation scheduling.

His irrigation scheduling saves water, energy and money with estimates of up to 35 percent savings in water and energy. Wenstrom estimated that his system saved 20-30 acre-feet of water per pivot compared to irrigation regimes that didn’t use scheduling in the 1980s. Fuel savings for the 24 center pivots were in the range of 500-600 million cubic feet of natural gas per year. Richard has seen different techniques work for different people. For farmers who irrigate, they do so with the intention of producing high yields. He knows his irrigation scheduling impacted yields but also reflects the values of resource conservation and good stewardship which runs deep in Kansas.

T & O Farms

Tom Willis also chose his farm to be a Water Conservation Area which allows additional reduction in water withdrawals while maintaining economic value through water-right technology. It has shown the potential for a minimum of at least three inches of water conservation in the first year of this three-year project. Tom shared his reasoning for utilizing the WCA on his farm as well.

“I want to prove the concept that we can conserve water and still achieve profitable yields using the technologies we are pioneering on my farm,” Tom Willis said. One year, Tom was able to shut his water off before other farms because of the technologies being used on his farm. He was also able to significantly save on fertilizer costs. To date he’s reported overall his yields have been good for wheat and soybeans and early indications are that milo yields will be good as well.

Weston McCary

The Northwest Kansas Technical College (Northwest Tech) Water Technology Farm employs technology through partnerships with multiple vendors, so the students are exposed to multiple brands and types of technology. With the multiple locations involved in the project, students are exposed to varied field and growing conditions.

Weston McCary is the director of the Precision Ag program at Northwest Tech in Goodland. Precision Ag is a comprehensive program that provides a solid background in the high-tech practices, equipment and software being used in production agriculture today. Using a combination of classroom, shop and field environments, students acquire the skills necessary to succeed in today’s competitive precision agriculture industry. Weston has led the way in bringing water technology and real-life applications to his students and has played a crucial role in ensuring a skilled workforce for Kansas’ water future.

Dwane Roth & Family

Dwane Roth and family are operating one of the original three Water Technology Farms, with Dwane strongly believing in the technology and conservation now happening on his farm. Soil moisture probes are used to compare the three different irrigation application methods on the field and the soils have been mapped and water application has been modified to fulfill the needs of the plants and soil. He has hosted multiple field and demonstration days, giving the hundreds of area producers, stakeholders, and decision-makers who have attended opportunities to be exposed to new irrigation technologies that can be used as tools to make more efficient use of the area’s declining water supplies.

He is dedicated to sharing these management techniques that have dramatically influenced his operating decisions and outlook on the future of the area’s water supplies. Seeing the huge importance water conservation played in her own family’s operation and her father’s dedication to ensuring water for the future, Grace Roth developed her FFA Supervised Agricultural Experience on water advocacy. In January 2017, she gave a presentation at the Ag Ed Symposium about recruiting more FFA members for this project and was approached by Dr. Gaea Hock from Kansas State University as she relayed her interest in helping Grace with the project. She wanted to educate more FFA members across the state on water issues and what role they can play in water conservation. After months of planning and organizing, the Kansas Youth Water Advocates Conference was held in Manhattan, Kansas.

The Roth family wants others to understand as well as the next generation of agriculturalists that it is our duty to conserve our natural resources so that we can have sustainable agriculture for years to come. Conserving water isn’t a one-person job. All Kansans must come together to make a lasting impact not only in agriculture but our everyday lives.

Wichita County

Recognizing that the social and economic vitality of the Wichita County community is dependent upon their water supply, a group of community members came together in early 2016 to develop a plan for water conservation in Wichita County. Over the course of a few months they organized themselves by asking ‘who else should be involved and how we should proceed?’ In March of 2016 a sub-committee contacted and interviewed potential facilitators, and in April they began their serious effort to develop the Wichita County Water Conservation Area Management Plan.

Effectively communicating and working together drove their group’s success, and by November 2016 they had submitted a plan for approval by the Chief Engineer. Following approval, the open enrollment period began in March of 2017 for water used during the 2017 calendar year. To date 26 Consent Agreements and Orders have been approved by the Chief Engineer. These agreements are projected to save over 18,654 acre-feet of water on 7,000 acres of irrigated land in Wichita County. The current success of the Wichita County Water Conservation Area is a testament to the people of Wichita County for stepping up to the plate and making a difference in the future of our community for generations to come.



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