How Does the Division of Water Resources Determine Whether to Grant a New Water Right?

The Chief Engineer of the Kansas Division of Water Resources must constantly balance the public interest with the goal of allowing water to be allocated to a beneficial use. Thus, there is a constant tension between development, on one end of the spectrum, and the preservation of water as a scarce resource, on the other end of the spectrum. 

Consequently, the Chief Engineer must consider a variety of factors in deliberating on whether to grant a new water right. The Chief Engineer should first evaluate if there is water available for appropriation. In many areas, this is done through a safe yield calculation. In a groundwater management district, the manager of the respective district usually helps with this calculation. 

It is critical for the Chief Engineer to develop an understanding of whether granting the new water right will impair existing water rights. Kansas statutes define the tolerance for “impairment” as “beyond a reasonable economic limit.” This standard has been developed because many areas are already highly appropriated, and, in the case of the Ogallala Aquifer, the continued source of supply may be limited.

The Chief Engineer must also consider whether the granting of the new water right is in the public interest. In making this determination, the Chief Engineer will look at factors such as the minimum desirable streamflows, the nature of the local water supply, prior water rights granted, and other relevant factors.   The Chief Engineer can even add water quality into the calculus. For example, in the Equus Beds Aquifer, there is a saltwater plume that the Chief Engineer will likely seek to keep from spreading in determining whether to grant new water rights.

Frankly, it has become increasingly more difficult to obtain a water right. Most places in Kansas are, simply put, over-appropriated. However, if you are fortunate enough to be located in an area where you believe water is available for appropriation, the above discussion should help illuminate whether the Chief Engineer will issue a permit.

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