Kansas Geological Survey
Fall 1997
Vol. 3.3

Kansas Water Resources and Sustainability Issues


Ground water and surface water are both part of a complex hydrological system—alteration of one affects all of the system




Water Resources–page 1

From the Director–page 2

Kansas Water Levels–page 2

New Publications–page 3

Dinosaur Arrives at KU–page 3

A Place To Visit–page 4





Several streams, creeks, and rivers in central and western Kansas carry less water than they did 25 years ago—the Arkansas River is a classic example—because of overdevelopment of water resources.

Survey geohydrologist Marios Sophocleous has tackled the controversial issue of sustainability of water resources in a new book, Perspectives on Sustainable Development of Water Resources in Kansas, to be published by the Kansas Geological Survey this year. As Sophocleous defines it, “sustainable development of a resource meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Resources should be properly managed to support economic development, protect the environment, and provide adequate resources for the future.”

To attain sustainable development of water resources, Sophocleous argues, the fallacies of the water-management concept traditionally known as “safe yield” must be understood.

In general, the traditional policy of safe yield limits the amount of water that can be pumped from the aquifer to the amount of annual recharge. In other words, safe yield assumes that as long as no more water is pumped from the aquifer than is replaced, the water table will not decline. However, safe yield ignores other components of the hydrologic system, namely the natural discharge of ground water to springs, wetlands, and streams. Under natural conditions (prior to development by wells), aquifers are in a state of balance. Water coming into the system equals the amount of water flowing out. Under safe-yield conditions, water that would normally go to natural discharge is captured by wells. When natural discharge is cut off, springs, streams, and wetlands dry up.

Ground water and surface water are both part of a complex hydrologic system—alteration of one part affects all of the system. Sustainable development is a holistic approach to development, conservation, and management of water resources. A balance must exist between the amount of water entering and the amount leaving the system. Discharge to streams, springs, and wetlands (and pumping) must equal recharge, and ground water and surface water must be considered together.

Local ground-water management districts have recently moved toward sustainable management by amending their safe-yield regulations to include the natural ground-water discharge to streams when evaluating ground-water-permit applications. This new measure, together with the establishment of state standards for minimum desirable streamflow, should provide needed protection to the riverine-riparian ecosystem.

Sophocleous wrote four chapters and edited six others by scientists from the Survey, Kansas State University, University of Kansas, and the Kansas Water Office. Written primarily for water users, policymakers, and water regulators, this semitechnical volume also provides background information about hydrologic systems and water-resource management in Kansas. Other chapters in the book address confined aquifers, water chemistry, surface waters, effects on agriculture, climate change, and the complexity of hydrologic systems.

“Management of ground water and surface water using a holistic approach that considers the entire ecosystem is the key to the future,” says Sophocleous. “The era of rapid exploitation of water resources is over and a new one of sustainable use is now taking hold in Kansas.”

Palmer Spring in Chase County, an example of natural discharge of ground water.
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Online February 10, 2003

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