- Associated Press - Saturday, January 2, 2016

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) - Abundant rainfall and a state program that allows water users to manage their water over five years helped reduce the number of water use violators in Kansas, a state official said.

Kansas Department of Agriculture data show 10 Kansas irrigators were fined in 2015 for tampering with their water meters or falsifying their water use reports. About 20 other water users were fined for overpumping their water right for the second or third time, The Hutchinson News reported (https://bit.ly/1PzN9xM ).

Most of the cases were for actions in 2014, with a few from 2013. Some other cases are still being completed by state officials.

“Actually, with the wet weather, folks really implemented management strategies,” said Lane Letourneau, water appropriations program manager for the Kansas Department of Agriculture’s Division of Water Resources. “They really utilized the rainfall and didn’t try to prewater after they took the crops out. The timely rainfall has really helped us this year.”

The department’s data showed 380 water users were issued notice of noncompliance warnings last year, although first offenses don’t bring penalties or fines. Seven irrigators received civil penalties for their second offense, with nine others penalized for their third offenses. The city of Belvue had its first offense but it was classified as extreme because the city pumped more than 125 percent of its allocated amount in 2013. And the city of Meade was issued an order of noncompliance for overpumping in 2014, its second offense. The city was fined $1,000.

Under current regulations, a fourth offense brings revocation of water rights, although Kansas officials have never revoked a water right for overpumping, Letourneau said.

However, state officials are proposing stricter penalties and they could be in place for the 2016 irrigation season.

Letourneau said that some who overpumped their water right enrolled in the state’s new multiyear flex account program to avoid a violation. The program, which began a few years ago, allows irrigators to use more water during drought years and bank water during wet ones, like this year. They manage their water rights over a five-year period.

About 1,000 water users are enrolled in the program, Letourneau said.

“We are hearing a lot of positive comments on that,” he said. “It keeps folks in compliance.”

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

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