Administration of Water in Kansas

The administration of water in Kansas – generally regarding its allocation, cleanliness, and availability – is, for the most part, divided among three state agencies:

  • Division of Water Resources (DWR), Kansas Department of Agriculture (KDA);
  • Bureau of Water, Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE); and
  • Kansas Water Office.

The following state agencies and entities have limited roles in the administration of water:

Adjutant General’s Office
Department of Commerce
Division of Conservation, KDA
Bureau of Environmental Field Services, KDHE
Bureau of Environmental Remediation, KDHE
Bureau of Waste Management, KDHE
Kansas Biological Survey
Kansas Corporation Commission
Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks
Kansas Forest Service
Kansas Geological Survey
Kansas State Research and Extension

State Agency Roles

Division of Water Resources, KDA

The DWR in the KDA is under the direction of the Chief Engineer, who administers 30 laws and responsibilities, including the Kansas Water Appropriation Act (Act).
The Chief Engineer also governs how water is allocated and used; regulates the construction of dams, levees, and other changes to streams; oversees the State’s four interstate river compacts; and coordinates the National Flood Insurance Program in Kansas.

One of the most important programs the DWR administers is the Water Appropriation program, which is authorized by the Act and directed by rules and regulations regarding water rights.

This program also coordinates with groundwater management districts, irrigation districts, rural water districts, public wholesale water supply districts, and water assurance districts; administering the Water Transfer Act and Water Banking Act; administers intensive groundwater use control areas (IGUCAs); and performs other functions related to water rights and use.

In 2020, the Kansas Water Appropriation Act turned 75 years old. It continues to be amended by the Legislature nearly every legislative session as needs, technologies, and available water continue to change over time.

Bureau of Water, KDHE

Much of the authority for maintaining water quality rests with the Bureau of Water in KDHE. Although most of the State’s water quality programs have their home in KDHE, some do not. For example, when oil and gas activities have been the source of water pollution, the Kansas Corporation Commission has authority for remediation.
Examples of water quality programs administered by KDHE include:

  • Clean drinking water standards;
  • Harmful algal blooms management and surface water quality standards;
  • The Livestock Waste Management program;
  • Municipal, commercial, and industrial wastewater lagoon regulations;
  • Watershed management; and
  • The Water Well program.

Kansas Water Office

The Kansas Water Office was established as the water planning, policy, coordination, and marketing agency for the State. The primary function of the agency is the development and implementation of the Kansas Water Plan, determined in coordination with the Kansas Water Authority, which consists of 24 members. The Kansas Water Authority also receives input from 14 regional advisory committees that represent the 14 watersheds in the state.

The Kansas Water Office also oversees various water projects that occur all over the state for water conservation, water management, technology and crop varieties, and additional sources of water supply. In addition, the agency monitors the storage capacity of the federal reservoirs in Kansas, and climate and drought conditions and outlook.

2021 House Committee on Water

The House Committee on Water was created for the 2021 Legislative Session. The Committee held informational hearings throughout the Session, learning from the state agencies and entities about their operations and responsibilities. The Committee discussed how these operations and responsibilities potentially could be modified or consolidated.

During the 2021 Interim, the Committee met in Garden City, where the Committee members learned about water issues in southwest Kansas. The Committee members toured sites and listened to stakeholders. The Committee also held an informational meeting at Garden City Community College.

During the 2022 Legislative Session, the Committee continued discussion on water in the state and introduced legislation regarding water administration, including state agency and entity configuration. The legislation did not pass.

2022 Special Committee on Water

During the 2022 Interim, a Special Committee on Water consisting of Senate and House members met in Topeka, where the Committee members listened to water stakeholders discuss concerns and suggestions for the future of water administration in Kansas.

Meredith Fry
Research Analyst

Heather O’Hara
Principal Research Analyst

Luke Drury
Senior Fiscal Analyst