A battle for water rights just got a little more public in Stafford County as farmers from the Rattlesnake River Basin band together to fight government overreach into their rights to irrigate and farm in the area.

On the surface, it looks like there is plenty of water to go around in parts of Stafford and Pratt counties, especially with recent rains flooding an area known as the Rattlesnake River Basin. But farmers and ranchers who have lived in the area are getting ready to fight for their rights to use water far under the ground, threatened by a complaint from federally-controlled Quivera Wildlife National Refuge.
Concerned about federal laws taking away state rights to regulate water use, a group of Stafford County area residents has joined forces to form the non-profit “Rattlesnake Basin Cause.” They are focused on water rights issues stemming from the Quivira Wildlife National Refuge (Wildlife and Parks Services) Impairment Complaint of 2012 which, they believe, is now at a boiling point for resolution.
Rural Stafford County residents Leah Chadd, her son Shaine Chadd, Rachel Crane and her father Alan Crane are the principals in the grassroots movement. They hope to call attention to the issues and proposed resolution between Quivera and southcentral Kansas farmers and landowners, represented by the Ground Management District 5 (GMD5) Board and Kansas Chief Engineer David Barfield.
“It’s important for area farmers and landowners to become involved to protect overreach by government entities to gain individual property rights,” Leah Chadd said. “This is becoming a statewide issue because in the GMD4, in northwest Kansas, there is the same judicial review in front of the court.”
Those primed to lose future water rights and potential livelihood include members of the GMD5 Board, the Kansas Chief Engineer, Quivira National Wildlife Refuge and individual landowners in the district.
Since its founding at the beginning of the year Rattlesnake Basin Cause has garnered increasing support of concerned farmers and businesses, Chadd said. The goal is to take their concerns from the discussion phase to an action phase with backing of neighboring landowners across the region affected by the Quivira Impairment Complaint.
At issue in the Quivera resolution scenario is establishment of a means for local farmers to solve their own water issues by creating a Local Enhanced Management Area (LEMA) that is designed to allow GMDs to set their own goals and control measures to aid in water conversation, at the approval of the Chief Engineer, Chadd said.
According to Rachel Crane, the problem with the LEMA resolution is that the Chief Engineer has taken up dictating the terms, which is not allowed under Kansas Law.
“The GMD5 has previously proposed implementing an augmentation program that would address all or most of the impairment concerns,’ Crane said. “Nevertheless, the Chief Engineer has insisted on reductions in water use.”
Shaine Chadd said the augmentation program proposed by the GMD5 was to drill wells and pump water into the stream to supply water to Quivera. It went one step further by offering to pipe the water to each of Quivera’s ponds.
“Our GMD5 board felt this was the best remedy to fix their impairment because the augmentation would guarantee the water when and where they needed it,” he said.
However, this LEMA plan was rejected by the chief engineer, who told the board there would have to be more cuts within the basin. Some of these cuts approach 40 percent for some of the permit holders within the basin, he said.
“I believe our local GMD5 board is receiving pressure from the chief engineer to the point that he has fine-tuned the LEMA to the chief engineer’s exact ideas, which I feel have more than one agenda,” Shaine Chadd said. “The chief engineer has gone as far as threatening the GMD5 with an IGUCA (intensive groundwater use control area) if his demands are not written into the LEMA. I feel like this is strong-arm tactics and government over-reach.”
According to Leah Chadd, the formation of the Rattlesnake Basin Cause group has a goal to accomplish fairness in the administration of water rights, not only in the Stafford and Pratt County areas, but all over the state of Kansas.
“We are questioning the legality of the procedure being used by the Chief Engineer to pressure the LEMA in the Rattlesnake Basin,” she said.
According to Rachel Crane, now is the time for farmers and ranchers to get involved with protecting the water they need to continue productive operations in this part of Kasnas.
“Your water rights are at risk. The state wants to cut your water rights, and they’re going to do it one way or another,” she said.
The water rights battle has been an ongoing 30-year problem Crane said.
“The bottom line is that the state has the final say,” she said. “We are now at the 11th hour and we have one last chance to solve our own problems before the state steps in and does it for us via an IGUCA.”
For further information about Rattlesnake Basin Cause, contact Leah Chadd, 620-546-4484.