Administration of Water in Kansas

Victoria Potts
Senior Fiscal Analyst

Meredith Fry
Research Analyst

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

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

The following state agencies and entities have less significant 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, Kansas Department of Agriculture

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), which governs how water is allocated and used; statutes regulating the construction of dams, levees, and other changes to streams; and 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 is involved in coordinating 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; administering intensive groundwater use control areas (IGUCAs); and 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, Kansas Department of Health and Environment

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;
  • Livestock Waste Management program;
  • Municipal, commercial, and Industrial wastewater lagoons regulations;
  • Watershed management; and
  • 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, which is 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 in the Kansas federal reservoirs and climate and drought conditions and outlook.

House Committee on Water

After the historic flooding in 2019, research was completed by KLRD to look at which state agencies and entities are involved in water administration. A spreadsheet was developed that tracked the agencies and entities by water administration area – for example, research and data, water quality, and water quantity.

The House Committee on Water was created for the 2021 Legislative Session. The House 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 House Committee on Water met in Garden City, where the Committee members learned about water issues in Garden City and Southwest Kansas. The Committee members toured sites and listened to stakeholders.

The Committee then held an informational meeting at Garden City Community College, where they heard from members of the public about their thoughts on the State’s water administration and configuration of water administration responsibilities at the state-level.

For the 2022 Legislative Session, it is anticipated the House Committee on Water will continue this discussion and potentially introduce legislation regarding water administration, including state agency and entity configuration.