Farmers in Pratt, Stafford and Kiowa counties face economic disaster as discussion over who controls the water of the Rattlesnake River Basin comes to a head on Monday, October 21 in St. John.
Monday, October 21 should be marked as a red-letter day by farmers in southcentral Kansas, including Pratt, Stafford and Kiowa counties. Business owners, school management and the population at large should also take notice of a water rights disaster that could become reality if people don't pay attention, according to Stafford County farm owner Leah Chadd.
October 21 is the date that Kansas Chief Engineer David W. Barfield has advised farmers in Big Bend Groundwater Management District 5 (which includes Edwards, Pawnee and Reno counties) by letter that meetings are scheduled to review the anticipated regulations that will affect their water usage.
The October 21st public meetings are scheduled for 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. at the Stafford County Annex, 210 East 3rd Avenue in St. John. All are invited to attend and hear the facts.
“We also plan to live-stream the meetings,” Barr stated in a letter sent to many area landowners, referencing www.agriculture.ks.gov/Quivira where he said archived versions will also be available for viewing.
Chadd and other owners of more than 1,600 water wells in the tri-county area have been notified by Barfield that, based on the impairment complaint on file by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for its Quivera National Wildlife Refuge, File No. 7,571, they will be required to reduce annual withdrawals of water, based on the priority of their water rights.
“While we have not yet received (Quivera’s request),” Barr wrote in his letter to Chadd and other stakeholders, “we anticipate receiving one in the near future and, most importantly, we believe it is crucial for owners and operators of the affected water rights to know what to expect and have the opportunity to plan accordingly.”
“This should be futile because the Quivera Refuge has a huge supply of water at this time,” Chadd said.
The letter to Chadd and others included a color-coded map (shown above) which denotes the timeframe in which water usage by farmers would be curtailed, as well as the areas that would be included over a three-year period, starting January 1, 2020.
“This is pre-information to us, as farmers, on what water cuts they’re going to make in the basin,” Chadd said.
“It’s ridiculous the kind of cuts they’re wanting to impose on us,” said Big Bend Groundwater Management District 5 President Darrell Wood.
Chadd said that it will not only be farmers who will feel the brunt of the proposed water restrictions.
If farmers don’t have water for their crops, there’ll be a trickle-down effect, possibly affecting the tax base that supports education, government and medical services," she said.
Chadd urged attendance at the meetings as a show of unity to preserve farmers’ irrigation rights. She said Kanza Coop, Kansas Livestock Association and Kansas Farm Bureau are three multi-county organizations that have shown strong support for farmers regarding water rights.
“This is much more than an issue for the area’s farmers,” an unidentified Kanza Coop Board of Director wrote in a letter last November. “We urge residents to be informed and vocal on this issue because it affects us all.”
The Kanza Coop letter stated that an analysis conducted by WaterPack estimated the economic impact of proposed water-use reductions could amount to $8 million-plus in revenue losses annually, with losses to the economy of the region projected at $42 million-plus.
In addition to loss of revenue, the Kanza Coop letter predicted land values would also fall, estimating a fixed-asset loss of $88,320,000.
“It is not difficult to see that the economic ramifications of continued reductions in irrigation allotments and water restrictions will have far-reaching, permanent effects to all sectors of the economy throughout this region,” the Kanza Coop Director's letter said.
USD 350 Superintendent Josh Meyer said that nearly everyone in Stafford County is aware of the ongoing water rights issue. Students have discussions about it at school.
"The state has plans to move forward with water regulations. It has been estimated that the impact to our economy in Stafford county could be as much as $125 million dollars per year, which would be devastating to everyone in our county," Meyer said.
Chadd, a founder of the Rattlesnake River Basin Cause group which is trying to inform farmers and ranchers in the area what is going to happen, said it was imperative that people show up to the coming meetings to find out for themselves the facts.
“If people don’t show up at the meetings, they’re going to roll over us and just take it,” Chadd said. “Farming is vital to the economy of our counties. Everyone needs to know what is going on here as it could have a major impact in the future viability of this part of Kansas.”
Chadd may be contacted for further information at 620-546-4484.