KFB Candid Conversation: Charles G. Snavely, Secretary of the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet

Posted on Mar 23, 2018

 

KFB Candid Conversation presents a discussion about the topical issues facing the agricultural industry in a question and answer format with a member of the agricultural community. In this column, Secretary Charles G. Snavely discusses the work of the Kentucky Water Resources Board and water resource management efforts in the state.

 

Charles G. Snavely, Secretary of the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet

What is the primary goal of the Kentucky Water Resources Board as it relates to agricultural water supplies?

The Water Resources board was created to provide a statutory framework to expand upon the valuable work of the Water Management Working Group of KFB and of the Kentucky Agriculture Water Quality Authority.  The focus of the Water Resources Board is ensuring an adequate quantity of water for agriculture in the future.  It will promote water efficiency and conservation, identify resource deficiencies and develop potential new and reliable water resources, while encouraging practices that promote agriculture and rural water resilience.

 

In your opinion, how important is it to ensure a resilient water supply for agricultural use?

As agricultural operations increasingly use irrigation, and as agriculture continues to grow, particularly into new areas such as eastern and southeastern Kentucky, the availability of water for day-to-day operations and during drought conditions will become more critical. Improving on-farm water efficiency and resiliency brings producers greater control over their water needs, reduces costs and limits external variables that get in the way of production.

 

In making sure the agriculture industry’s needs are met when it comes to water resources management, how does that affect the non-farming population?

Over several decades, farmers have become increasingly dependent upon public water for its reliability and quality. Many rural water systems have limited capacity, which results in competing demands for water during dry periods.  The fact is, that the needs of people will always take precedence over agriculture when there is competition for scarce resources, as in times of severe drought.  That is why it is important to know how to use irrigation water most efficiently and whether there are additional water resources that can be accessed for agriculture.  As farmers become more water independent, that frees up a public water system’s capacity to service other critical demands.

 

In many other states, we see problems arise between urban and rural communities over water use in times of need such as droughts. Do you think Kentucky is in a position to avoid those types of issues because of the work being conducted as it relates to water resources management?

The Cabinet believes that if, in partnership with agriculture, we are successful in improving on-farm water resiliency and in developing new and reliable water resources, both agriculture and rural communities will benefit. Kentucky has a couple of big advantages over other states. It is a water-rich state, receiving normally about 45-50 inches of rain per year. Even during drought years, Kentucky normally has significant precipitation, but also, some significant water resources projects (e.g. large reservoirs) that sustain large areas during droughts. Further, Kentucky’s public water systems serves more than 95 percent of the population via extensive and well-interconnected water systems. Those factors help to offset Kentucky’s drought vulnerability and provide for added resilience.

 

How important are the relationships between different organizations and government entities when it comes to combatting issues such as water management in a proactive way?

I believe that the Ag Water Quality Authority and the Water Management Working Group are proof that, in Kentucky, the relationships between government, the universities, the Kentucky Farm Bureau and other agriculture and conservation organizations is a great way to make progress.  In my time at the Cabinet, I have been so impressed with the way that all the groups support each other to improve both agriculture operations and the environment.  That same spirit of cooperation will help us improve water availability for agriculture.

 

Because of the work of Kentucky Farm Bureau’s Water Management Working Group and the Kentucky Water Resources Board, do you see the Commonwealth serving as an example of what other states could do when it comes to managing water resources?

If the Commonwealth’s work in water resource management is seen an example to other states, that would be welcome because it would mean that we are on the right track. However, we hope not only to provide an example, but also to work with other states to learn from their experiences.