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Topic: Groundwater Management District (GMD)

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
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
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
image of Mike Hayden

Interview of Mike Hayden, November 23, 2021

Interviewed by Rex Buchanan
Former Kansas Governor Mike Hayden talks about how his life-long concern for wildlife and natural resources informed his entry into electoral politics, service in the Kansas House, time as Governor, and his subsequent career. This interview provides insight into how one Kansan was able to make a lasting impact on the state in a key public policy area. Hayden provides perspective on policies that were initiated during his time in office that remain in place and some that may need to be re-examined in the light of recent developments.

Interview of Paul Feleciano, February 11, 2022

Interviewed by Eric Sexton
Paul Feleciano served from 1972 until 2003 in the Kansas Legislature, primarily in the state Senate. During his 31 year tenure he has served on almost every committee. His interview discusses a wide range of issues including groundwater management, mental health reform, changes in the penal system, but his descriptions of the personalities of Senate leadership make that era come alive. He characterizes the men and women serving in the 1970's and 80's as giants --articulate, caring, compassionate problem solvers who would work "across the aisles" to make things happen. As the legislature moved into Show Morethe 21st Century, Feleciano notes the split in the Republican Party between conservatives and moderates became a real problem because the impact was, "they didn't want to compromise." After leaving the legislature, Feleciano was appointed to the Kansas Parole Board and served there for six years. Show Less
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