“We need more planning, more foresight and more common sense in water management,” says Hopper.

Water use theories may follow one of two principles—conservation or preservation. Conservation is using water now, conscientiously, to maintain a farm or business. Preservation means saving water for generations to come.

“Water will be worth more in 50 years,” he said. “But how much can I afford to preserve and still make payments on the land and make a living? Farmers face significant risk of their equity every year, and a couple of bad years could put us in a big mess.”

Jason Coleman is general manager of the High Plains Underground Water Conservation District, an entity that manages water for all or part of 16 High Plains counties. He contends public participation is crucial to develop meaningful and equitable water use policies. “A local perspective,” is helpful, said Coleman, who has been in his position since last September.

“We use a county committee structure to generate feedback to our directors.” Those committee members, 94 in total, bring that local perspective to the board. “It’s an ongoing process.”

Friction may have eased a bit from two years ago when the District announced irrigation restrictions—set at 15 inches per year for 2016—and a requirement to install water meters for each irrigation well. See rules.

The monitoring requirement did not sit well with farmers, many of whom operate dozens of wells to water cropland. Cost of installing the meters, with some farmer estimates running as high as $2,000 per well, would be prohibitive for many. Some cotton farmers have indicated they have as many as 100 wells in play for irrigation.

 

Initially, failure to monitor those wells would have resulted in stiff fines. That regulation was delayed while the district sought a less expensive means of determining how much water irrigators use each year.