Kansas Conservation Series: Groundwater Recharge and Sustainability Project Helps Two Western Kansas Communities Address Declining Aquifer

(Washington, D.C., April 10, 2023) – U.S. Senator Roger Marshall, M.D. is continuing his conservation series highlighting Kansans’ voluntary efforts to take better care of the environment. Stories will be released throughout the 2023 Farm Bill legislative process.

“While we hold hearings for the 2023 Farm Bill, I want to highlight the fact that Kansans are working hard every day to protect our environment and conserve precious resources our Ag economy needs to thrive. Kansas’ farmers, ranchers, growers, and producers are finding unique and practical ways to preserve our land and protect our water and air. Their efforts are worthy of everyone’s praise,” said Senator Marshall.

The Playa Lakes Joint Venture partnership is working with local and state partners to address declining aquifer levels in Wichita and Greeley counties and support the Leoti and Tribune communities. USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has invested $1.4 million in a partner-driven Groundwater Recharge and Sustainability Project (GRASP) with an additional $1.5 million in partner contributions. This project is helping landowners voluntarily restore playas near municipal and domestic wells, improve irrigation efficiency, reduce pumping, retire wells, and transition to dryland cropping systems. It is designed to support existing water conservation efforts such as the Wichita County Water Conservation Area (WCA) management plan, the Kansas Department of Agriculture’s Water Transition Assistance Program (WTAP), and the Wichita County Local Enhanced Management Area (LEMA).

 Aerial View of Playa Lake

“The Kansas Association of Conservation Districts (KACD), along with the Wichita and Greeley County Conservation Districts, strongly support this project, and are one of the major partners, because it will help conserve water, create wildlife habitat, help stop erosion, and help to sustain a water supply for future generations,” said Bill Simshauser, KACD executive board member. “All these practices in combination — restoring playa lakes, reducing irrigation water usage, and retiring irrigation water rights — will help to sustain the local water supply.”

Since the project began, 1,142 acres of playas near Leoti and Tribune have been restored through the USDA Migratory Birds, Butterflies and Pollinators State Acres for Wildlife CRP practice and other funding. Partners also worked with the county road maintenance department to install water conveyance features under roads to allow water into five playas to increase recharge and reduce road maintenance. In addition, 375 million gallons of water have been saved by retiring two water use rights near the two towns through the Kansas Department of Conservation’s Water Right Transition Program (WTAP).

Previous Entries in Senator Marshall’s Kansas Conservation Series:

April 3, 2023, Water Technology Farms in Garden City: Roth Farms and The Garden City Company took the initiative to start Water Technology Farms to conserve water. The Roth family has farmed for The Garden City Company for generations. Dwane Roth and Troy Dumler, General Manager of The Garden City Company, were concerned about declining water levels in the Ogallala Aquifer in northwest Finney County after years of drought. The development of Water Technology Farms in the Kansas 50-Year Water Vision provided a great opportunity to test new irrigation technologies. You may click HERE or on the image below to read Water Technology Farms full feature.

March 24, 2023, Milford Watershed: The Milford Watershed is a Regional Conservation Partnership Program through USDA NRCS and helps agricultural producers act on water quality. The voluntary program is designed to help farmers and landowners increase the health of their land and make operations more efficient. The Best Management Practice is a plan that helps control nutrient pollution or erosion resulting from agricultural land use. These practices include nutrient management, residue and tillage management, nutrient management plan, cover crop planting, and more. The practices lead to better water quality in Milford Lake. You may click HERE or on the image below to read about the Milford Watershed.

March 17, 2023, Kansas Burning Practices: For ranchers like Joe Carpenter, in the Flint Hills, controlled burning of pastures continues ahead of the start of the summer grazing season. With the Flint Hills being the last remaining tallgrass ecosystem in the United States, it is imperative landowners preserve the landscape and ecosystem. Ranchers, including Joe, use fire to do that. Everything in the Flint Hills, from the animals, grass, shrubs, and trees, has been shaped by fire. For thousands of years, tribes set fire to the prairies to kill invasive species and encourage the growth of new grass, which attracted bison to the area for hunting. The need for the fires continues today – plants, animals, and the economy still depend on it. You may click HERE or on the image below to read the full feature. 

March 10, 2023, Mr. Ray Flickner: Ray Flickner a fifth-generation farmer from McPherson County. On their 147-year-old farm, Ray and his wife Susan grow irrigated corn, soybeans, sorghum and wheat. Ray was practicing regenerative agriculture for many decades before it became mainstream in the Kansas agriculture community. In doing so, he is leaving the soil in better condition for the future through practices like minimum and conservation tillage, subsurface drip irrigation, and cover crops. You may click HERE or on the image below to read Ray Flickner’s full feature. 

March 3, 2023,  Mr. Randall Karr: Randall is a 5th generation farmer who works alongside his father while managing his own acreage. Growing up, he watched his grandfather pioneer new practices, including terraces and no-till farming. Randall utilizes several conservation practices on his farm north of Emporia, including cover crops to minimize soil erosion, no-till planting and weed management, and rotational grazing with his meat goat herd to control weeds and add nutrients back into the soil. In February, Randall was honored by the Lyon/Chase County conservation district with the 2022 Young Conservation Award. You may click HERE or on the image below to read Randall Karr’s full feature. 

February 23, 2023, United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Kansas Great Plains Grassland Initiative (GPGI): Kansas’ transition from productive grassland to woody plant dominance presents a threat to livestock production and increases the chance of dangerous wildfires. The GPGI is partnering with Kansas’ ranchers to protect natural grasslands by offering financial support and treatment strategies for addressing woody plant encroachment. In Southeast Kansas, the Browning family has utilized the GPGI to restore grassland. You may click HERE or on the image below to hear their story.