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Topic: Kansas Water Office

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
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

Interview of Dennis McKinney, August 23, 2019

Interviewed by Dale Goter
Dennis McKinney developed many insights in his sixteen years as a leader in the minority party into how the legislature did work, and how it should work. He recounts numerous instances when things worked well because of bipartisan cooperation and compromise. McKinney's experiences on the House Energy and Natural Resources committee working with Carl Holmes and Ken Grotewiel helped shape water policy in Kansas. His experience as a farmer and rancher in south central Kansas coupled with his focus on problem solving led to his reputation as a "middle of the road legislator" who would work Show Morewith both political sides as well as urban and rural. McKinney was committed to public education as well as conservation. The pursuit of fair and balanced tax policy shaped his actions. The interview highlights the importance of leadership from the governor's office and other legislative leaders (Mays, Shallenburger, D. Kerr, Morris). There is an interesting segment about the 2005 Special Session on school finance where McKinney talks about using the courts as leverage. The interview concludes with a brief discussion of the Greensburg tornado. 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
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
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.
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