Gov. Laura Kelly sent a letter to the director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) September 8 calling for the agency to work with local and state entities to address the water needs of the Quivira National Wildlife Refuge without harming the agricultural industry and rural communities in the area.
Operated by USFWS, the refuge lies within the Rattlesnake Creek Basin located southeast of Great Bend and has one of the most senior water rights within the basin. In 2016, David Barfield, who was chief engineer of the Kansas Department of Agriculture Division of Water Resources at the time, found the agency’s water right was being impaired by junior groundwater rights in the basin. Earlier this year, USFWS filed a request that the chief engineer immediately require junior water right holders to reduce their usage, which would prove detrimental to the surrounding area. In response, Chief Engineer Earl Lewis announced he would not administer water rights in 2023 to allow for the development of an administrative plan, but he intended to administer them in 2024 if USFWS renewed its request to secure water, which is an annual requirement.
In her letter, the governor highlighted that although the basin is home to the refuge, it also is where an “essential and robust” agricultural community is located that provides the economic foundation for much of the region. As a result of these contributions, Gov. Kelly said that any “abrupt change in farming practices, which would be required by an immediate call for the service’s senior water rights, could devastate the entire region, including municipalities, schools, residents and businesses not directly involved in the agricultural sector.” Therefore, she urged the agency to find a collaborative solution that could be implemented gradually to avoid any acute economic harm.
KLA, along with other agricultural, local and state leaders, urged the governor to make this request for collaboration, as Groundwater Management District #5 has initiated the process to design and construct an augmentation project, but it currently is delayed by environmental review laws required by the federal government.