Governor Kelly Attends 2023 Governor’s Conference on the Future of Water:
Remarks as Prepared

— Today, Governor Laura Kelly attended the 2023 Governor’s Conference on the Future of Water. A transcript of Governor Kelly’s remarks as prepared can be found here and below. 

Good morning, and welcome to the 2023 Conference on the Future of Water in Kansas.  

I’m delighted to see so many people representing different sectors here today. Water is an issue that affects everyone in Kansas, so we need input from all stakeholders to develop viable, sustainable solutions to the challenges we’re facing.   

Those challenges go far beyond just the depletion of the Ogallala Aquifer—although addressing that is, of course, critical.  

But we also need to make sure that our water quality is being properly maintained… that our reservoirs are operating at peak capacity… that our water supply is less vulnerable to extreme events like droughts and flash floods.  

A year ago at this conference, I said that protecting our water supply would be a top priority in my second term—that for too long, politicians had been all talk and no action when it came to water, and I refused to kick that can down the road any further.  

So, I’m pleased to announce that we have made important progress in addressing the water crisis in Kansas.  

We’ve hired a Senior Advisor on Water in the Governor’s Office, Vijay Ramasamy, to work across agencies and with partners at the state and local level—from the agricultural industry to municipal water providers to communities themselves—to develop well thought-out solutions. Last week, I announced the creation of a Water Subcabinet to build a collaborative, all-of-government approach to water issues and programs.    

The subcabinet will include representatives from the Kansas Water Office and the Kansas Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Health and Environment, and Wildlife and Parks.   

In the last legislative session, we were able to pass two landmark bills thanks to stakeholders and legislators’ willingness to come together and drive progress. One of those bills, HB 2279, partnered with Groundwater Management Districts on an accountable and transparent path forward to manage our state’s water resources. It created a specific timeline for communities to develop strategies around water quantity and quality across the state. This is a significant development.   

The other, HB 2302, allocated an unprecedented investment in the State Water Plan, to the tune of $35 million annually for the next five years.   

And last month, Senator Moran and I were able to come to an agreement with the Kansas Department of Agriculture and the federal Fish and Wildlife Service concerning the water rights issues around the Rattlesnake Creek Basin.   

The impairment in Rattlesnake Creek has been an issue for decades and, much like our broader water problems, addressing it was not a question of “if” but “how.” We needed to ensure an accountable and sustainable solution, one that secured the Fish and Wildlife Service’s senior water rights without simply cutting off water to hundreds of residents. The agreement we helped broker gives local stakeholders time to find a solution, while keeping in place a call for water if a satisfactory plan isn’t submitted.   

I know not everyone was a big fan of the decision, but we must move forward with both accountability and partnership. I’m grateful to the Fish and Wildlife Service for their willingness to come up with a compromise that provides a responsible path forward.  

I’m encouraged by the progress we’ve made thus far, but there is still more work to do.   

I won’t sugarcoat this. Preserving the quality and quantity of our water is an existential issue for our state. Resolving it is not going to be easy, and it’s not going to be cheap. If there was a simple solution, it would have already been implemented. And, as I said earlier, there are many different stakeholders here, all of whom have different—and sometimes opposing—wants, needs, and objectives. There are going to have to be compromises – there is no other choice.   

It is crucial that we build on our existing progress and empower even more stakeholders to take action. The good news is that we are in a better position than ever before to do that.   

We have the funding. For two years running now, we have fully funded the State Water Plan for the first time since 2008. One of my key priorities is to take advantage of the millions of dollars in federal funding available through infrastructure packages to help improve water quality and drought resilience, and invest those funds in a smart, targeted way that aligns with a long-term strategic plan.   

We have the technology, and some of the best data in the country around water quality and quantity. K-State University, where more than 75 faculty members are working on water-related issues, just announced that it is launching the Kansas Water Institute. This institute will leverage resources and expertise from across the school and beyond to develop innovative solutions to water challenges.  

And we have the momentum. Last year, the Kansas Water Authority voted for the first time to reject planned depletion of the Ogallala Aquifer, forging a new path for collective water conservation. Overwhelmingly, Kansans agree that conservation measures should be taken to preserve the Ogallala rather than depleting it—and that includes a majority of farmers.  

Finally, I want to dispel the myth once and for all that there is a choice to be made between conserving water and growing the economy. One is essential to the other.   

Studies show that smart water usage has financial benefits in both the short term and the long term. The Local Enhanced Management Area in Sheridan County has shown a nearly 30 percent reduction in water use, all while producers saved and met their production goals.  I’m proud that, since I took office, we have experienced unprecedented levels of economic development and investment in Kansas, and I’m determined to continue that growth.  

We’re also determined to increase public-private partnerships to remove some of the barriers around water conservation efforts. In the Cheney Lake Watershed, for example, we’re partnering with General Mills and other groups to help farmers in five Kansas counties reduce water use and nutrient runoff, while increasing yields.  

So, we are ready to meet the moment.  

I don’t know that we can get this issue resolved once and for all in the next three years. But I do think we can put in place the best practices on a regional level to get it done. And it has to get done—because otherwise, Kansas as we all know it and love it will cease to exist. I give you my word that, while I’m in office, I will do everything in my power to leave Kansas with a viable path forward on this issue.  

I will intentionally bring together a large variety of stakeholders – agriculture, municipal water providers, our cities and businesses, and industrial water users – to provide feedback on a path forward. Water is an issue that impacts everyone, and we need everyone pulling in the same direction to get this done.  

We have a tremendous opportunity ahead of us to be a model for the rest of the country when it comes to water conservation. We can show that collective, coordinated action on water conservation and quality is good for our pocketbooks and our communities, in both the short term and the long term. Opportunities like this don’t come along very often, so we owe it to ourselves, our children, and every future generation in Kansas to act now, before it’s too late.  

Thank you for your shared commitment to protecting the precious water supply in Kansas, and I hope you have a productive conference. 

Photos from today’s event for media use can be found below: