The vision for water in Kansas starts at home

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Suzan Metzger, assistant secretary of the Kansas Department of Agriculture, gives a lecture to agriculture students on water in Kansas. The lecture was hosted by Alpha Zeta on Feb. 13, 2017. (Regan Tokos | The Collegian)

Turning off the faucet while brushing your teeth twice a day can save up to eight gallons of water, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. It is a tried and true lesson children are taught to save some water for the fish.

Jackie McClaskey, secretary of the Kansas Department of Agriculture, said the reality is that one person doing this is probably not going to solve any major water issues in the state of Kansas. Not even if every single citizen of the state of Kansas turned the faucet off while brushing his or her teeth for two minutes.

“It’s not going to make a difference on water problems; however, what that means is that those citizens are thinking about water,” McClaskey said.

In a distinguished lecture series hosted on Monday by Alpha Zeta Fraternity, an agriculture honorary, three members of the Kansas Water Vision Team spoke to students, faculty, staff and the surrounding community about the future of water in Kansas in Waters Hall.

The speakers included McClaskey, Susan Metzger, assistant secretary of the Kansas Department of Agriculture, and Tracy Streeter, director of the Kansas Water Office.

Rachel Sahrbeck, senior in animal sciences and industry and censor of Alpha Zeta, was in charge of organizing the event.

“Water is such a pressing topic and it’s important to everyone,” Sahrbeck said. “There are all these different industries, and water affects every single one. They wouldn’t exist without water.”

The importance of water

Agriculture is the largest economic driver of Kansas as it brings in $64 billion dollars, which is 43 percent of the state economy, McClaskey said. Twelve percent of the Kansas workforce is also directly connected to agriculture and 88.9 percent of all land in Kansas is farmland.

“Water and economy are linked,” McClaskey said. “And to understand that, you have to understand that water and agriculture are linked. There is no other industry that comes close to making the economic contributions of our economy as agriculture does.”

Challenges with water

McClaskey said water in Kansas is depleting, which includes both ground water in the Ogallala Aquifer and the surface-driven water in the federal reservoirs.

“If we do nothing about this water over the next 50 years, 70 percent of the Ogallala Aquifer would be depleted,” McClaskey said. “Forty percent of the area we irrigate would be gone. In this ‘do-nothing scenario,’ we’d lose an additional 40 percent of storage due to sedimentation.”

A vision for water

“We were charged by the governor, former secretary of agriculture who understands water and agriculture, to develop a long-term vision for water in Kansas,” McClaskey said. “You can’t grow the Kansas economy if we don’t have the long-term reliable water supplies that we need. That’s where the conversation started.”

The vision for water all started by being asked at the economic council, “What is your long-term plan?”

After realizing they did not have a plan, McClaskey said a group of business leaders, both in and out of agriculture, came together to create this plan.

Since 2013, the Kansas Water Vision team has been working on its four guiding principles to keep their mission statement alive: “Provide Kansans with the framework, policy and tools, developed in concert with stakeholders, to manage, secure and protect a reliable, long term statewide water supply while balancing conservation with economic growth.”

Streeter said this is done through water conservation, water management, technology, crop varieties and additional sources of water.

Most importantly, McClaskey said it comes down to education and their vision education supplement.

“This is big, it has no edges,” McClaskey said. “We can’t quite figure out where water begins and where it ends. If you think about every ‘no smoking’ ad you’ve ever seen, it’s made an impact on people. Those types of ads make a difference on folks and change their ways, so we think what we have to address is, ‘How do we get to that with water?'”

Turn the water off while brushing your teeth, McClaskey said.

“If they’re thinking about water at home, then they’re thinking about water at work,” McClaskey said. “So we’re still going to talk about residential water use because we think that’s an important way for people to think about water, even if that’s not where the big impact will be.”

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Kaitlyn Alanis
Hi, I'm Kaitlyn Alanis, former news editor for the Collegian and a May 2017 graduate in agricultural communications and journalism. I have never tried a hamburger and I hate the taste of coffee, but I love writing stories and sharing what I learn with our readers. By writing for the Collegian, I can now not only sing along when the K-State Band plays "The Band is Hot," but I also know that most agriculture students did not grow up on a farm, how to use an AED to save someone's life and why there is a bust of MLK Jr. outside of Ahearn Field House. Thanks for reading!