Governor’s Water Conference focuses on water issues in Kansas

Rock Springs 4-H Centeris a camp, conference and retreat that includes more than 700 acres in the Kansas Flint Hills and is run by the Kansas 4-H Foundation. (File photo by Justin Wright | Collegian Media Group)

Manhattan held the annual Governor’s Water Conference on the Future of Water in Kansas. The conference began Wednesday and ended Thursday.

As little as 2.5 percent of the water on Earth is fresh, and the percentage of readily available water is even smaller, according to the National Geographic Society.

Kevin Moluf, panelist at the conference and engineering instructor at Kansas State, said this is not a lot, considering the size of the world’s population.

“When you divide that across 9 billion people, it is not a lot of water per person,” Moluf said.

Moluf said citizens should be conscious of their water usage because it is easily overlooked.

“Living in the United States, where we have an infrastructure system that’s basically designed to stay hidden as long as it’s working, people can go through and they can shower, brush their teeth, drink water, use the bathroom,” Moluf said. “They do all of these things and they use water, and, for the most part, people don’t think about the amount of water that they’re using.”

Moluf also said water may soon become scarce, and that threat should be factored into daily water usage.

“When you consider how scarce of a resource it is and how awesome it is that it’s basically eternally recycled … it’s important for people to understand not to take it for granted,” Moluf said.

The conference focused specifically on water issues in Kansas. Tracy Streeter, director of the Kansas Water Office, said the conference tries to highlight issues that are present now and relevant to Kansans and students.

“We try to develop an agenda that’s focused on current events in Kansas and the issues we’re trying to solve at a federal, state and local level in Kansas,” Streeter said. “That’s why it’s important for students to participate. It’s to get that first-hand exposure to what’s going on in state government and across the state on water resources.”

Despite the conference’s local focus, Streeter said the Kansas Water Office works to involve speakers from around the country and world who can share valuable information on water conservation practices.

“We try to find the current topics and then we look nationally, even internationally, to find the right types of speakers that give us perspective,” Streeter said. “We even have a session that’s looking at Israel and their water conservation.”

Students from K-State and the University of Kansas attended the conference to share research projects on water-related topics.

“Students are our future, pure and simple,” Streeter said. “We think that children and adults and young adults in college all need to be exposed and educated on the importance of water, and we should start at a young age.”

Stephen Lauer, graduate student in sociology, and Matthew Sanderson, associate professor of sociology, shared their research on sociological values that can affect aquifer management in western Kansas.

“Specifically, we’re interested in how [farmers] balance values of stewardship, fairness and independence in making decisions both individually, but also some of them are working together as groups to manage their water,” Lauer said.

Lauer said the project, which is just part of the United States Department of Agriculture’s study of the Ogallala Aquifer, is “interdisciplinary” and involved several K-State students.

“By understanding what motivates farmers’ decisions, we’re more likely to develop solutions that are helpful to them,” Lauer said. “The ultimate goal of the USDA project is to actually make a real difference in the sustainability of the aquifer.”

The Governor’s Water Conference was held in Manhattan this year at the Hilton Garden Inn this week. The Kansas Water Office hosts and plans the conference, but works with outside entities like K-State to help with the planning and accommodations. Streeter said the location allows the conference to be in connection with K-State.

“It’s always good to be in the backyard of Kansas State University,” Streeter said. “Kansas State plays a big role in this conference.”

My name is Emily Moore and I'm a senior majoring in English and mass communications with a minor in leadership. I love to read, write and edit. During my free time, I enjoy doing crossword puzzles, rock climbing and spending time with my friends.