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Topic: Irrigation

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
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

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

Interview of Fred Kerr, April 13, 2018

Interviewed by H. Edward (Ed) Flentje
Fred Kerr reflects on his 15 years in the Kansas Senate representing the 33rd Senate district. He recalls Senate leaders and fellow Senators who helped him as a freshman and whose influence guided him throughout his career. Fred talks about the process involved in securing a leadership position in the Senate and the dynamics of leadership races. He observes how relationships between competitors for leadership offices affected Senators differently and how they worked together in subsequent legislative sessions. He also reflects on how decisions were made regarding tax policy both to fund highways and public schools. Show MoreFred, who ran for Governor in 1994, comments about the increasing influence of money and monied interests in state-wide politics. A previous oral history interview of Fred Kerr is here. 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 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
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
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