A letter to the state of Kansas on the "50 Year Water Vision"

November 12, 2014

As we prepare today for the meetings regarding the future of water in Kansas, please see our letter written by CSO Trista Brown.

Secretary Jackie McClaskey

Director Tracy Streeter

Dear Secretary McClaskey and Director Streeter:

I am writing today on behalf of Cattle Empire to provide comments on the Governor’s 50 Year Water Vision Draft Documents.   Cattle Empire, as you may know, is an integrated agricultural organization that includes farming, ranching, dairy calf growing facilities and commercial feedyards.  Our operations are centered in Southwest Kansas and dependent upon the Ogallala Aquifer for water. 

Cattle Empire was started by my grandfather Paul Brown, who had a vision of developing a viable agricultural company to grow the economy of Southwest Kansas.  He seized the opportunity to invest in irrigation and development of livestock operations to add value to generic commodities of grains and beef.  With these concepts, he and six other family members have invested millions of dollars building the company.  Today, Cattle Empire employs over 420 people, and has a local economic impact of $1.625 Billion through payroll, sales, and purchases. 

The future of our company depends upon our water appropriations.  We value and preserve the water rights we hold and strongly oppose any effort that undermines the Kansas Water Appropriations system or favors one type of user over another.  The Water Appropriations process is cumbersome and time consuming but it is the system to which we and thousands of our neighbors have relied upon in the pricing and development of land.  The value of our land, and any of our operations is tied directly to our supply of water.  Over the years, we have worked very hard to invest in land that has reliable supplies of water. We oppose any suggestions of “across the board cuts” or “setting aside the seniority system” as discussed in the water management section (p. 25 Proposed changes to the Kansas Water Appropriation Act Rules and Regulations to promote better balance between efficient water use and economic benefit.).  To eliminate the system, without discussion of a replacement, would create chaos in the marketplace.  Further, eliminating or grossly modifying the current permitting process would undercut the investments we have made. 

We support efforts to give local landowners the ability to adjust and use their water rights as efficiently as they can.  During periods of drought, we think additional flexibility (including the potential for increased use of wastewater) is vital to sustaining operations.  We understand the desire to slow the decline of the aquifer but encourage you to conduct extensive economic analysis on any policy proposal to evaluate short and long term economic benefits before a policy is adopted.

The document seems to presume that the citizens of western Kansas do not understand the magnitude of the issues surrounding the Ogallala.  This presumption is totally misguided.  The people of Southwest Kansas live and thrive in very difficult conditions.  We know the environment in which we live and conserving and protecting our water supplies is critical.  The 14 counties of Southwest Kansas contribute over $6.7 Billion to the state’s economy. Our county of Haskell contributed $1 Billion in 2012 alone and we are driven to continue into the future.   We ask that you give us, through our ground water management district and local governing entities, the ability to craft our own vision for our future.  For over 30 years, Southwest Kansas has dealt with critical water issues—and we will address this one too.

We suggest that you and the remainder of government seriously explore and financially stimulate research in new water conserving crop varieties; new sources of water supply; and new irrigation and conservation/reuse systems that allow us to be even more efficient in the delivery of food and fiber to the state and nation. The notion that conservation of the Ogallala is a Kansas dilemma is an undeveloped one. Kansas needs to lead the multi-state conversation to better the entire Midwest. We encourage you to look for advancements that make huge differences in use v. a regulatory approach that simply places another level of bureaucracy on our freedom. 


Trista E Brown

Chief Strategy Officer


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