Ogallala Water Summit gathers stakeholders to work on next steps to sustain aquifer

By Amy Kremen

More than 200 leaders in water management from all eight states that overlay the Ogallala Aquifer traveled to Garden City, Kansas in April to attend the Ogallala Aquifer Summit. Over two days, the group shared its expertise and perspectives on effective management practices and support systems, including local, state and federal policies, incentive and educational programs and markets, with the potential to conserve water and sustain the Ogallala region’s agricultural productivity over the long term.  

Summit participants included producers, commodity leaders, representatives from water management districts, technology companies, federal agencies, nonprofits, researchers, students, policymakers and elected officials.

“If the Ogallala is to deplete in our lifetime, this will make life fairly hard. And in the areas where depletion is inevitable, there’s a sense that ‘we’ve got to extend it long enough to adjust.'” Kansas Lieutenant Governor Tracy Mann

The summit was developed by a multistate planning team led by staff from the six-state U.S. Department of Agriculture-National Institute of Food and Agriculture-funded Ogallala Water Coordinated Agriculture Project (CAP) and the Kansas Water Office. The format was designed with the intention of:

  • building cross-state relationships among a wide range of water management stakeholders,
  • encouraging information exchange, drawing heavily from and building on the experience and expertise of producers, and
  • identifying opportunities for collaboration within and across state lines to boost the impact of efforts being made to help address the region’s water-related challenges.

Summit participants were assigned seats to ensure they would meet and exchange with people representing different stakeholder perspectives. The summit’s keynotes and panels served as springboards for facilitated sessions at which table groups identified current opportunities and barriers to achieving greater water conservation and water use efficiency in the Ogallala region. During the summit’s final, capstone workshop, participants identified and prioritized key collaborative, cross-state activities that could be acted upon or initiated over the next 12 months with the potential to benefit the region over the long term. Participants also committed to specific actions they would follow through on in the coming year related to addressing Ogallala region water-related challenges.

“We’ve been working on issues that years ago we thought were unsolvable, but what we do [today] is about the next generation and preserving the small communities they grow up in. Without cooperation, we will not get there.” Colorado Commissioner of Agriculture Don Brown

Information gathered during the summit is being posted on the 2018 Ogallala Aquifer Summit resource page of the Ogallala Water CAP website. Visit the page to:

  • watch videos and read press coverage from the event,
  • access links to the nine white papers developed as background materials — one for each state, plus a ninth paper focused on crop insurance — covering the summit’s three theme areas: innovative producer practices, policy shifts and applied research/outreach, and
  • learn more about key takeaway ideas highlighted by participants over the course of the summit.

What’s next?

A detailed report summarizing content covered at the summit and summit follow-up activities will be added to the Ogallala Aquifer Summit resource page in the coming weeks. In response to feedback received through participant evaluations, the summit planning team will organize another summit set for early 2020, which will also feature a Technology Expo. In the interim, the summit planning team is also working with partners across the Ogallala region to organize smaller events to take place across the region in 2018 and 2019 that will focus on topic areas identified by summit participants as having value for regional stakeholders, including:

  • establishing an Ogallala-wide network of youth water advocates that builds on programs already active in Kansas through Kansas’ Department of Agriculture and the Southwest District FFA and in Texas with Texas 4-H2O Ambassadors;
  • collaborating across state lines with multiple partners to make more incentive programs and educational opportunities, both in-person and online, available for producers, including the development in several states of “Master Irrigator” educational training programs inspired by the program offered through the North Plains Groundwater Conservation District in Texas; and
  • engaging in ongoing communication with different stakeholder groups at the local, state, regional and federal levels to help better align programs, policies, research and research dollars to support producers and effective aquifer management over the short and long term.

Information about these events and activities will be publicized through the websites, newsletters and social media accounts for the Ogallala Water CAP, the Kansas Water Office and other regional partners. For more information, please contact Amy Kremen, Ogallala Water CAP project manager, at amy.kremen@colostate.edu or Katie Ingels, communications director, Kansas Water Office, at Katie.Ingels@kwo.ks.gov.

*Amy Kremen is the Ogallala Water CAP project manager.

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