Martin Hawver
Guest columnist
The Kansas Legislature is getting ready—and many legislators don’t even realize it yet—for two, yes, two, of the most politically explosive and complicated issues that most have ever dealt with.
Those issues are virtually invisible to most of the Legislature and, in  fact, to most Kansans.
Have you guessed them? Probably not. They are water rights and pore space, and whether you wonder about them just before dozing off at night, they are big issues that will impact even us Kansans east of US-81, which splits the state into western Kansas and eastern Kansas.
Water rights may be the biggie. Gov. Sam Brownback wants to work on the issue of “use it or lose it” as it pertains to water rights under much of the state. The concept there? If you have a right to pump water from under your land, and you don’t without very good reason not pump that water for five years, you can lose your right to that water which is underneath your farm.
Sound a little severe? Taking of a water right, which is a major component of the value of a farm, just because you don’t use that water? Brownback doesn’t like that possibility. For us city folk whose water right usually involves which hand you use to turn on the tap, the issue is pretty remote.
But in often water-short western Kansas, the right to use underground water is a fact of life and often the difference between a crop or no crop or maybe livestock or no livestock on your ranch. Or, maybe it’s the difference between a factory or no factory, or water for a community…
Even if you don’t use the water which is under your land, should you lose the right to it? What used to be a black or white issue in a state that is trying to encourage jobs and manufacturing and economic development out west suddenly takes on several hues.
Look for that fight.
Oh, and this pore space issue? Pore space is part of the mysterious geology into which natural gas that is stored in underground caverns can leak. Key to the measure is a years-long investigation into ownership of the gas that spreads from underground storage areas into the property of adjoining landowners. Because that gas that spreads through pores in storage caverns moves onto another’s property, it used to be pumped and sold by the adjoining property owner until a recent court decision.
The practical problem is that “pore gas” that migrates onto adjoining property discourages drilling by adjoining property owners and now hinders sale of leases of underground rights at other geologic levels—say, natural gas or maybe oil above or below those “pore space” areas.  It diminishes the value of those underground mineral rights for landowners.
If the gas migrates into formations underneath your land, it’s not yours. Natural gas storage firms get fussy about neighbors pumping out the natural gas that they’ve bought and stored in the summer so that they can sell it in the winter when we need gas to heat our homes.
So, it looks like the Legislature will consider creating a whole new category of underground property—leasable pore space.
Yes, those two issues will be taking up legislative time when most of us just want to know what our taxes are going to be…
No, it’s not tax policy, mind you, but every time you reach for the faucet or the furnace clicks on, you have a stake in the outcomes.
Syndicated by Hawver News Company LLC of Topeka; Martin Hawver is publisher of Hawver’s Capitol Report—to learn more about this statewide political news service, visit the website at