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Ban on deep-well drilling in Ozark aquifer may end

COLUMBUS — A moratorium on the drilling of deep wells in the Ozark aquifer in southeast Kansas could end next year with the adoption of new regulations that are in the development stage.
David Barfield, chief engineer with the Division of Water Resources in the Kansas Department of Agriculture, met with water providers in the region this week at the Cherokee County Courthouse to lay the foundation for those new regulations.
Barfield asked those attending whether they were experiencing quantity or quality problems with the water they are drawing from the ground. Of the dozen or so rural water districts, private corporations and municipal utilities represented, none of the officials voiced a concern.
Some said they have recently seen an increase in water levels. Whether that stems from decreased pumping or a higher level of recharge from increased rainfall was not clear, they said.
But state Rep. Doug Gatewood, who represents most of Cherokee County, said water providers are concerned about what's happening across the state line in Missouri, where water usage is not regulated by the state. Gatewood inquired about the possibility of an interstate compact that might give Missouri some influence over water usage in the southwest corner of the state.
"We understand we are affected by their usage," Gatewood said.
Barfield said interstate compacts are doable, but they are difficult because they require state and federal legislative action.
Gatewood said he would be satisfied if someone in Kansas would be willing to initiate a dialogue with Missouri; Barfield said that is possible.
The moratorium on deep wells was imposed in 2004, when it became apparent that water usage in southeast Kansas was increasing and that no one knew for certain whether enough water was available from the Ozark aquifer to meet the needs of existing providers.
Recent studies by the U.S. Geological Survey suggest that there is enough water available in the aquifer to meet an annual growth rate of 2 percent for several decades. The studies also suggest no evidence of saltwater intrusion into public water supplies in Cherokee and Crawford counties.
"There is quantity available for the foreseeable future," Barfield said.
He noted that those same studies indicate that parts of Missouri could face water shortages if demand continues to increase as projected.

Barfield said the new rules with regard to the moratorium and water usage will go through several reviews and a public comment period before taking effect. He said the aquifer could be managed based on safe yield, or it could be managed through the establishment of appropriations.
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