State Water Plans Are Coming Due

Reporter Brett Walton previews two plans — in Arkansas and Colorado — that will be unveiled this week, in addition to the Kansas plan that is due out next year.

Arkansas 2014 state groundwater water plan irrigation rice farming

Photo courtesy of IrinaK / Shutterstock
Agriculture makes up roughly 80 percent of Arkansas water use, most of which comes from aquifers. In its first water plan since 1990, released this week, Arkansas recommends weaning farmers from groundwater. Click image to enlarge.

At calendar’s end, we reflect. A good number of states have spent the entire year doing just that, about water.

One of my preview stories in February 2014 highlighted the explosion of interest among American state officials in crafting new water plans. Drought, peer pressure, and economic concerns led to the planning revival. Seven states were preparing to release a plan in draft or final form this year, and at least a half dozen other states were beginning discussions.

This week, the last two plans for 2014 are being unveiled.

The Arkansas plan emphasizes two points: 1) the state must use less groundwater and 2) the state must investment in new infrastructure. The plan forecasts a groundwater gap between sustainable supply and anticipated demand of 2.7 trillion gallons (8.2 million acre-feet) per year by 2050. The state expects to close this gap by weaning most farmers from groundwater. Instead of pumping from aquifers, they will use small, on-farm reservoirs and a network of new canals that will move water from rivers onto farms. Two such projects costing $US 1.3 billion are already under construction.

Colorado’s plan, meanwhile, will also recommend increasing the amount of water taken from rivers, particularly the Colorado River. Environmental groups are distraught at the thought of more river diversions.

Kansas, Too

Other state plans — Kansas for example — will be published next year. Like Arkansas, Kansas is concerned about groundwater. The western half of the state draws water from the Ogallala Aquifer, a finite source that, in a matter of decades, will no longer hold enough water to sustain the current farm economy. Wells on the aquifer’s fringe are already dry. I reported heavily on this for our Choke Point: Index package earlier this year, and you can find those stories, infographics, and photos in our Ogallala Aquifer section.

The Lawrence Journal-World reports that state officials will form a task force to recommend options for funding the Kansas plan. The largest project on the drawing board — still more pie-in-the-sky dreaming than shovel-ready, in my opinion — is a 600-kilometer (375-mile) canal from the Missouri River that would cost many billions of dollars. Again, something I reported on back in February.

Plans will not please everyone, but at least they put a state’s intentions in the open where they can be debated. And that gives everyone something to reflect on.

Have you read your state’s water plan? Does your state have a water plan? I’d love to hear from you. Send an email to, a tweet to @waltonwater, or comment below.

–Brett Walton
Circle of Blue reporter

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