Chief Engineer Announces Administration of Waters in Rattlesnake Creek Area

August 21, 2019

Chief Engineer for the Kansas Department of Agriculture Division of Water Resources (DWR) Chief Engineer David Barfield made public his intentions to begin administration of water rights in the Rattlesnake Creek Basin. His August 8 announcement was a result of the impairment of the Quivira National Wildlife Refuge senior water right. The chief engineer also indicated he was rejecting Groundwater Management District (GMD) 5’s Local Enhanced Management Area (LEMA).  

Regarding water right administration, the chief engineer announced his intention to develop administrative orders by September 1, 2019, with reductions in water use to be effective January 1, 2020.  DWR specified water use reductions will vary among users based on the seniority of the water rights (with older rights getting larger allocations) and will average about 15% of long-term use. This average reduction is contingent on implementation of stream augmentation and 4,400 acre feet of water retirements by GMD 5.  If those fail to materialize, the chief engineer has threatened larger water use reductions.

KLA also learned the reductions will vary depending on the zone where the water right is located, with water rights in an area designated as Zone D, closest to the stream, receiving a larger reduction amounting to nearly 25% of historic use. Water use reduction estimates announced by the chief engineer are based on historic use, but prior appropriation law requires administration be based on annual authorized quantity. If an average historic use approach is utilized to generate the cut to authorized quantity, KLA expects the chief engineer’s approach to disproportionately affect stockwater users whose historic water use is more often near the total authorized quantity than irrigators. KLA also is concerned the chief engineer’s announcement may violate the prior appropriations law by rationing water among all water rights junior to Quivira rather than assessing reduction on the most junior rights first.  

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