- Associated Press - Monday, May 12, 2014

SUBLETTE, Kan. (AP) - A fifth-generation western Kansas farmer is testing the state’s water law to bring attention to a problem he believes will get worse unless growers change their irrigation habits.

Jay Garetson and his brother, Jarvis, hold one of the oldest water rights in Haskell County, The Hutchinson News (https://bit.ly/1jaaIzE ) reported.

“The Ogallala has been massively over-drafted,” Jay Garetson said, referring to the Ogallala Aquifer. “If we don’t make changes, and large changes, and make them soon, we might not have anything left to talk about other than what part of the country we are moving to.”

Kansas law gives senior water rights priority over junior rights, which means if a senior right is impaired the owner of junior rights could be ordered to reduce irrigation from his well or be shut off completely. Vested rights like that held by the Garetsons are the most senior rights in the state.

The Garetson family first filed an impairment claim on their vested water right in 2005, after a growing number of wells dotting the farmland forced them to drill their own well deeper on two occasions. The last time, they drilled down to 450 feet, which likely is as deep as they will be able to go. The family received a backlash from the community after filing the impairment claim, so they dropped it in 2007.

“Rather than being a positive catalyst for change in the effort to extend the useful life of the aquifer as a whole, we have been perceived as selfishly damaging our neighbors for our own gain,” the Garetsons wrote in their withdrawal letter.

The brothers decided to file the impairment claim again in 2012.

While it could be months before the case - Garetson Brothers v. American Warrior, an oil company owned by Cecil O’Brate of Garden City - is resolved, a judge last week issued a temporary injunction preventing the oil company from pumping water from its junior wells to irrigate crops this summer.

O’Brate declined to comment, as did the Kansas Department of Agriculture.

If pumping continues at its current pace, the state’s water resources could be nearly exhausted in 50 years, according to Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration, and roughly 70 percent of the Ogallala aquifer in Kansas would be depleted by 2064.

“There is not enough water to go around. We’ve known that for 40 years now,” Jay Garetson said. “It is getting bad enough something needs to happen.”


Information from: The Hutchinson (Kan.) News, https://www.hutchnews.com

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