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Reflections on Water2021-07-24T07:54:06-05:00

Reflections on Water

About this Collection

Reflections on Water is a series of oral history interviews of individuals who shaped state water policy in the 1970s and 1980s. Rex Buchanan, Director Emeritus of the Kansas Geological Survey, conducts the interviews of legislators, natural resource planners, administrators, farmers and environmentalists.

Mike Dealy Kansas

Interview of Mike Dealy, November 24, 2020

Interviewed by Rex Buchanan
In this 2020 oral history interview, Mike Dealy discusses his observations of Kansas water policy implementation during his career as the Manager of a Groundwater Management District (GMD). He reflects on the degree to which water policy permeates all aspects of society and politics. He recalls how the GMD Board's interest in water quality added a dimension to water management that didn't exist in all GMDs. He also notes that changes in the composition of the GMD Board of Directors had an impact on policy development and reflects on the importance of broad representation in the elected Board of Directors. Show MoreThat broad representation ideally can result in cooperation among all water users in a GMD, irrigators, municipalities, and industries, which is key to a successful management plan. Show Less
Ed Flentje and Rex Buchanan, Kansas

Interview of H. Edward (Ed) Flentje, June 14, 2019

Interviewed by Rex Buchanan
In this 2019 oral history interview of Ed Flentje, he recalls the intricate work of developing a water planning process and applying good governance principles to a highly contentious issue that involved a variety of entities both inside and outside state government in the 1970s. The innovations in water regulation that grew out of the agenda of Governor Bennett, for whom Flentje served as Planing Director, were carried out and implemented by succeeding Governors, Carlin and Hayden. Flentje's description of water policy rising to prominence in the Bennett administration demonstrates how governors benefit from listening to a variety Show Moreof voices when developing policy agendas. Show Less
Interview of Lon Frahm

Interview of Lon Frahm, June 18, 2020

Interviewed by Rex Buchanan
In this 2020 oral history interview, Lon Frahm describes his involvement in groundwater policy development as a member of Northwest Groundwater Management District No. 4. During the 1990s, he challenged the zero-depletion policy (to take only the amount of water that will be naturally replenished). Frahm supported local control of water management. He observed that over the years control over water planning has shifted to state-level water agencies, particularly the Kansas Water Office, that are not “invested personally” in managing water in northwest Kansas. In his view, state Water Plan funding has resulted in spending that Show Moredoes not help farmers and other local interests. Frahm cites the importance of local culture in setting water policy using as an example the Local Enhanced Management District (LEMA) in Sheridan County. He notes that the success of that endeavor grew out of the shared values of the farmers and a local market for grain. Frahm argues that changes in water use will be very slow over time, and water use should not be held back because we cannot predict the future. Show Less
Mary Fund, Kansas

Interview of Mary Fund, February 10, 2020

Interviewed by Rex Buchanan
In her 2020 oral history interview, Mary Fund talks about her involvement in water policy from the perspective of her work at the Kansas Rural Center (KRC) since the late 1970s. Fund authored Water in Kansas, A Primer, published in 1984 by the KRC. In this interview, she talks about the difficulty of making changes in farming methods that will conserve both water and soil when those changes require farmers to voluntarily alter decades of entrenched farming practice. Fund also observes that shifting the political culture is key to making voluntary changes work.
Ken Grotewiel, Kansas

Interview of Ken Grotewiel, December 5, 2019

Interviewed by Rex Buchanan
In this 2019 oral history interview, former Representative Ken Grotewiel recalls learning about the state and its urban/rural divide in addressing water issues. He found that these issues were not generally decided on a partisan basis. While representing Wichita in the Kansas House of Representatives, Grotewiel developed a good working relationship with Carl Dean Holmes, a Republican House member from western Kansas, especially on water issues, when they served together on the House Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Although Grotewiel had a reputation as a liberal environmentalist, he views his approach as that of a pragmatist. Among the Show Morewater issues addressed during his service in the House were purchasing storage in federal reservoirs that involved “minimum desirable stream flows,” irrigation, “water rights” that can affect streams, and the interbasin transfer of water. Grotewiel describes in some detail the challenges of passing legislation to fund the State Water Plan; legislation strongly opposed by farm groups and irrigators. He sites approval of water plan funding as an example of bipartisan cooperation and as the most significant accomplishment during his time in the Legislature. By the time he was appointed by Governor Sebelius to be Assistant Director of the Kansas Water Office in 2002, he noted considerable breakdown of civility in the Legislature. Among issues Grotewiel worked on during his service in the Water Office were use of federal money to purchase water rights along the Arkansas River and the purchase of land to protect the Equus Beds aquifer along with resisting the Legislature's diversion of Water Plan moneys for other purposes. Show Less
Joe Harkins and Rex Buchanan, Kansas

Interview of Joe Harkins, April 24, 2019

Interviewed by Rex Buchanan
In 2019 Joe Harkins sat down for an oral history interview conducted by Rex Buhcanan. Harkins describes a career that began in public health and ranged from addressing nursing home problems in Kansas to initiating a graduate program in health administration. Persuaded to take on running the Kansas Water Office, Harkins engaged in transforming the culture of water administration at a time when issues related to water had a high priority in the state. In a detailed discussion of water policy, he discussed the dynamics of the relationship between governors and the legislature in developing, adopting, and funding Show Morea state water plan in the 1980s and early 1990s. Harkins brings the perspective of a professional public administrator to the issue of water policy development. He recalls learning about water policy while he was in charge of developing it. Harkins also has the perspective of a key staff member in several administrations in which water policy was a high priority. He reflects on the importance of gubernatorial leadership and the power dynamics among the various interests that shaped the ultimate policy. Harkins laments that water issues are no longer among the highest priorities in state public policy administration. This interview provides the most comprehensive explanations of policy development in practice in Kansas state government that is available. Show Less

Interview of Dave Heinemann, January 18, 2021

Interviewed by Rex Buchanan
In this early 2021 oral history interview, former State Representative Dave Heinemann recalls the influences that led him to run for office to represent the Garden City area in Finney County, Kansas. He attributes familiarity with farming in southwest Kansas, where water availability is always a challenge, with his understanding of water issues. In this interview, Heinemann talks about the various perspectives from which Kansans evaluate local control of water use. As Chair of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Heinemann was able to see how attitudes about public policies regarding the environment frequently cut across party lines. Show More A prior oral history interview of Heinemann can be found in the Statehouse Conversations collection on this site. Show Less
Carl Holmes, Kansas

Interview of Carl Holmes, September 3, 2020

Interviewed by Rex Buchanan
In this 2020 oral history interview, former State Representative Carl Holmes discusses his observations of state water policy formulation in the 1970's through 2012. Holmes began his involvement in water policy as a farmer and active member of his community in southwest Kansas. In many respects, his experiences reflect the water-energy nexus. He describes how he had observed cities and irrigators mining water in southwest Kansas. He recalls developing a comprehensive understanding of water issues by interviewing the managers of the state’s water resources. In this interview, Holmes describes how he managed the House Energy and Natural Resources Committee by Show Morecreating subcommittees and educating members on how to work bills and guide them through the process. He discusses his bipartisan work with Representative Ken Grotewiel and other committee Democrats in the 1990s, actions that resulted in the Speaker removing him from the chairmanship of the committee. Holmes describes how irrigation changed over time from flood to sprinklers and how the sprinkler systems have become more efficient. However, Holmes observed that groundwater levels continue to decline leading to abandoned wells, the growing of crops that require less water, the return to dryland farming, and, for some, the call for diversion of water from distant sources, such as the Missouri River, to sustain farming and communities on the plains. Show Less
John Peck, Kansas

Interview of John Peck, February 5, 2021

Interviewed by Rex Buchanan
In this 2021 interview, John Peck, Emeritus professor of Law at the University of Kansas, recalls the early days of his career entering into the field of water law. His interview provides insight into the important elements of water law in Kansas and how they developed. Peck reflects on the effectiveness of Kansas laws and regulations governing water use. Peck also identifies continuing questions about existing water law and related practices. From his role as an active observer of the legal and regulatory culture that has developed around water in Kansas, Peck presents a unique perspective. Show More Show Less
Dave Pope, Kansas

Interview of David Pope, September 19, 2020

Interviewed by Rex Buchanan
In this 2019 oral history interview, David Pope describes how the awareness of declining water levels in the High Plains Aquifers in Kansas led to efforts to support wise use and responsible management of groundwater in the state. He describes being hired to address groundwater issues from the local perspective and how he was involved in the creation the Groundwater Management District (GMD) in southwest Kansas. As Assistant Chief Engineer of the Department of Agriculture’s Division of Water Resources and later Chief Engineer, Pope was involved in a state policy limiting new groundwater development, referred to as planned Show Moredepletion, along with efforts to develop regulations on water management to replace the prior ad hoc approach. Pope discusses his dealings the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in assuring minimal desirable streamflow to satisfy municipal and industrial water users along with conservation and recreation interests. He describes the complex interplay of surface and groundwater use policies which became a politically highly charged issue in addressing the Cheyenne Bottoms wetlands issue, Pope explains how the water law premise of "first in time, first in right" has been modified with amendments and regulations that require the filing of water rights, development of conservation plans to assure the beneficial use of water, mandatory metering of water use, and closure of areas for new water rights, all based on hydrologic studies. He concludes that although some GMDs have not tackled long-term depletion problems in western Kansas, two districts have adopted successful strategies: safe yield rules adopted by Groundwater Management District No. 2, and the creation of the Local Enhanced Management Area (LEMA) in Sheridan County to regulate irrigation. Pope describes those successes and speculates on why others have not been as successful. Show Less
Lee Rolfs, Kansas

Interview of Leland (Lee) Rolfs, October 28, 2019

Interviewed by Rex Buchanan
In this oral history interview recorded in 2019, Lee Rolfs explains that few regulations governed water use when he began working at the Division of Water Resources of the State Board of Agriculture in 1978. He describes how the State responded to depletion of the Ogallala aquifer by creating Groundwater Management Districts (GMD) to manage future development, and to create a comprehensive system to address water issues. Rolfs recalls how the policy positions switched over time from the State being reluctant to regulate groundwater use when the GMDs initially sought restrictions to the opposite, with the GMDs opposing regulations Show Morewhen the State sought to impose them. He recalls his work on ground-breaking litigation with Colorado over water in the Arkansas River (Kansas v. Colorado). That case spanned over 25 years of his career with the State. Rolfs expounds on the Water Appropriation Act and its importance in the development of Kansas and its limitations in addressing the issue of long-term declines in the water table. He observes that cooperation, knowledge, and education are essential for properly managing water in Kansas. Show Less
Interview of Tracy Streeter

Interview of Tracy Streeter, April 30, 2021

Interviewed by Rex Buchanan
In this 2021 oral history interview, Tracy Streeter reflects on his 14 years as Director of the Kansas Water Office under four governors. As recalled here, the early years of the 21st Century saw the efforts of the Kansas Water Office move from planning and policy-making to implementation. Streeter discusses issues involving water reservoirs that have become an integral part of water management in the state. He also reflects on the number of state agencies involved in development and implementation of water policy in Kansas and the dynamics of the Natural Resources Sub-cabinet under Governor Sebelius Show Moreas well as changes that occurred when the policy planning time horizon was increased dramatically through the water visioning process initiated by Governor Brownback. Show Less
John Strickler, Kansas

Interview of John Strickler, May 22, 2019

Interviewed by Rex Buchanan
During John Strickler's 2019 oral history interview, he recalls meeting and becoming friends with newly-elected State Representative Mike Hayden. Later, from 1987 to 1989, Strickler served as Special Assistant to Governor Hayden on environmental matters. During the 1989 legislative session, he assisted Hayden in his efforts to secure funding for implementation of the State Water Plan. He describes in some detail the debates among the various interests over whether water plan funding should come from the State General Fund or from water user fees. Strickler describes the dynamics of the governor's office, legislature, and various interests in the passage Show Moreof the Water Plan funding. He notes that subsequent governors and the legislature have not maintained funding levels as originally proposed. Strickler discusses at length the difficulty of managing water resources in Kansas and elsewhere and the problems of implementing environmental education. Show Less
Joyce Wolf, Kansas

Interview of Joyce Wolf, November 15, 2019

Interviewed by Rex Buchanan
During her 2019 oral history interview, Joyce Wolf talks about her background working with environmental organizations on a variety of environmental issues. With a degree in bacteriology, she became interested in water quality issues before the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Wolf worked with Jan Garton, a key figure in environmental advocacy in Kansas, and a coalition of environmental groups supporting water rights for the Cheyenne Bottoms wetland area under the banner of “Save Our Bottoms.” Wolf was also involved in debates over the low-level radioactive waste disposal facilities. She elaborates in this interview on the Show Moresuccess of the coalition achieving an arrangement for adequate water supply for Cheyenne Bottoms and funding of the State Water Plan during the administration of Gov. Mike Hayden. Wolf recalls that environmental organizations were also concerned about the silting-in of the federal reservoirs, the decline of the Ogallala aquifer, the conflict over the Arkansas River that led to the Kansas v. Colorado lawsuit, and the loss of surface water in western Kansas. Wolf also discusses the cultural differences between Kansas and Minnesota that appears to reflect a lack of appreciation of the natural environment in Kansas. Show Less
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