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Kansas Should Choose the Ogallala Over Corporations

Fight for the Water Hole
Frederic Remington, 1884 – 1909; Google Art Project
Fight for the Water Hole

I'm Hannes Zacharias, a native Kansan who grew up in Dodge City, speaking for High Plains Public Radio’s Radio Readers Book Club. The book is The Water Thief” by Nicholas Lamar Soutter.

If you are a fan of dystopian tragedy novels, this book is right down your alley. Set several 100 years from now, the book portrays a world absent of government and all its’ regulations or threats of picking “winners and losers.”

It describes a future where people are manipulated to prefer being totally controlled by corporations and profits. Everything, every action, and everyone has a cost and a future value to the corporation including water, people, and even friendships. When the individual’s future value is close to $0…the “perception department” of the corporation invents stories to arrest, try, and convict people for crimes of devaluing the corporation, eventually hanging them, and rendering their bodies for cosmetic and other industrial uses. The author is clear that the book was written as a rebuttal to Ayn Rand’s novel “Atlas Shrugged” and ‘Neoliberalism’.

For me it is a disturbing read. It conjures up parallels to the corporate consumption of water in the Ogallala aquifer in southwest Kansas and the constant greed to increase stockholder value, no matter what the consequences.

We know the single largest asset for much of Kansas agriculture and certainly southwest Kansas, is the Ogallala aquifer. We know it has been mined for decades and is being depleted to a point where it is uneconomical for continued agricultural use. Government intervention has long been advocated for but cries for a laze fare attitude over corporations have been lobbied for and perpetuated by corporations.

For decades state government leaders have acquiesced to this call. Since the late 1900’s conferences on Kansas Water have underscored the impending depletion of the Ogallala aquifer. Government intervention has been advocated for but with no real action following the final sessions. Since 2011 the, now annual, Governor’s Conference on the Future of Water, highlights the increasingly worrisome numbers of aquifer decline in southwest Kansas and forecasts the impact of water mining being so severe to essentially leave the Ogallala aquifer dry forever for further agricultural use but again…no real action. Efforts are now being made to, yet again, encourage corporations to “do the right thing” for the future of Kansas. Such cries, however, continue to be unheeded putting Kansas on a path of agricultural economic instability.

Everyone knows what needs to be done but no one is willing to do it. Reducing water mining allows future generations the benefit of this historical ancient water, but who should go first? The balance between the benefits of capitalism and stockholder value versus government regulation and the long-term public good, is the field of battle. As indicated by Soutter “in a true capitalist system, it is not now, nor will it ever be, the primary domain or function of a publicly held corporation to ask if there is anything more important than money. It's simply not their job. It's the job of the people and their government”.

As we think about winners and losers in the fight over water from the Ogallala aquifer, Kansas and its citizens should choose the Ogallala aquifer and future generations over corporations.

Water is the source of life and, especially in southwest Kansas, should be protected as such, not left to increasing stockholder value.

I’m Hannes Zacharias in Lenexa, and you are listening to High Plains Public Radio and the Radio Readers Book Club.

Spring Read 2024: Water, Water Neverwhere 2024 Spring ReadHPPR Radio Readers Book Club
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