This week’s Mad Hatter trophy goes to the Kansas Senate, for following Alice into Wonderland and approving plans for that miracle pipeline to bring Missouri River water more than 300 miles to the depleted Ogallala Aquifer in western Kansas.
It’s a pipeline dream, at an estimated cost of $18 billion, a wonder of wonders, a plan to restore a water source sucked nearly dry by the hog factories, corn farms and feed lots that brought new life to the desert high plains, wealth to corporate farming, and worry to the farm towns and cities that needed water for more than growing money.
For more than three decades running, concerned citizens, scientists and state regulators have warned that the rise of corporate agriculture had seriously depleted the vast underground Ogallala Aquifer beneath the western third of
Kansas. In some areas, the wells are already dry. Last year, a study mulled construction of a pipeline or aqueduct to move water from the Missouri River roughly 360 miles to western Kansas, where it would be pumped underground to restore the depleted aquifer. The idea was quickly waved away for several reasons, among them the estimated cost of construction, and the estimated operating costs of at least $400 million a year, in large part for giant pumping stations to move the water uphill; Kansas’ elevation rises roughly 3,000 feet from east to west.
Nonetheless, the Kansas Senate on March 21 approved the plan outlined in House Bill 2059 in spite of the obvious concerns, and other factors including the potential for fights over new water rights along the route, the politics of Missouri’s objection, and the complications of property rights versus a public “improvements” project.
Back to the cost: Sen. Dennis Pyle, R-Hiawatha, said any tax increases to move ahead with the water plan (or “strategy,” as it’s sometimes called) would be massive. It was suggested that the federal government might help with the expense ‒ the “evil” government that so many Republican legislators have bashed repeatedly over the years.
Sen. Larry Powell, R-Garden City, carried the bill and said the project won’t happen “tomorrow or next year. I look at it as the future of Kansas.”
That it may be. But the present of Kansas includes a $200 million annual budget deficit provoked by massive tax cuts for the wealthy and for businesses. This has brought us a bankrupt system of local school finance; a roster of state agencies sucked as dry as the aquifer in the state’s brutal search for loose change; a higher education system paralyzed by soaring tuition costs and next to nothing in state aid; a Transportation Department broken and penniless after continued raids on its vault; a $400 million pile of phony highway bonds, footings for a state budget with all the markings of a Ponzi scheme; a “privatized” welfare agency that neglects the sick and the poor while wheedling Medicaid contracts for Republican campaign donors; a pitiable confederacy of agencies left with tin cups to find their own street corners and panhandle for spare change; a governor clinging to his tax-free fantasy world of haves and have-mores; a citizenry abandoned and left to wonder what, in the end, will come of this catastrophe.
And our legislators ‒ or, most of them ‒ dream of an $18 billion pipeline? We have a different dream, one that brings us a legislature with more purpose than following Alice as he flits through Wonderland looking for the next pro-fetus rally, or another missive from the Kochs.
‒ JOHN MARSHALL