Farmers trying to save Ogallala Aquifer face tension from peersCenter pivot irrigation sprinklers water a wheat field in Finney County. David Co...Farmers trying to save Ogallala Aquifer face tension from peers
Center pivot irrigation sprinklers water a wheat field in Finney County. David Condos / Kansas News Service
“Instead of bragging about bushels per acre, they’re talking about how many bushels per inch of water that they got.”
HAYS — A few years ago, Stuart Beckman drove 65 miles with a neighbor to attend a wedding in Saint Francis in the northwest corner of Kansas.
The two farmers weren’t particularly welcome.
“They found out where we were from,” Beckman said, “and they just about ran us out of there.”
Not surprisingly for this part of the High Plains, the trouble started over water.
“We’re these dumb (farmers) that are thinking we can get by with an acre-foot of water and that's crazy,” Beckman said, recalling the reception he and his neighbor got in Saint Francis. “‘You guys ought to go back home.’”
Beckman farms two counties away. And there, folks had formed the state’s first local enhanced management area, or LEMA — a 99-square-mile patch of northwest Kansas prairie where farmers set strict limits on the amount of water they can use for irrigation. It’s that idea — that a farm operation would no longer have the freedom to use as much water as it can pump from the ground — that soured the wedding.
The LEMA’s irrigation restrictions represent a last-ditch effort to save the region’s most critical water source: the Ogallala Aquifer. And in a place where agriculture is king and rainfall is scarce, the path to any kind of curb on irrigation took more than 100 years.