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Topic: Kansas Water Authority

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
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
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
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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