Official delay of water restrictions gives hope to those looking for a solution for impairment claim.
The fate of junior water rights in a five county area covering the Quivira National Wildlife Refuge Impairment Administration Zones has been delayed so more work can be done to solve the issue of agriculture water usage and water needs for Quivira.
Area producers and other interested parties packed the Stafford County Annex in St. John to overflowing at 3 p.m. on Oct 21 as representatives from the Kansas Department of Agriculture and the KDA Division of Water Resources came together to present information and answer questions.
The overflow was placed in the Annex lobby and 60 took in the meeting in the basement of the Ida Long Goodman Memorial Library where provisions had been made to livestream the meeting.
Irrigation water use rights and water rights for Quivira have come into conflict in the Big Bend Groundwater Management District 5 where irrigation has impacted water flow into Quivira.
The FWS has water rights that predate junior water rights held by farmers and producers so they have priority of water rights and can require juniors to restrict the amount of water they take out of the ground. The FWS has complained their water rights for Quivira have been impaired since 2013.
Pumping irrigation water does impair water flow to Quivira. If the water flow is decreased it reduces the quality of the water and the refuge can’t use it. The DWR has been in conversation about the problem for two years said David Barfield, KDA DWR chief engineer.
Finding an alternative source of water has been discussed but it would still require reductions in irrigation usage. Rainfall is also taken into consideration in these discussions. While some years are wetter than others, the overall trend in stream flow is down, Barfield said.
A plan to start imposing irrigation restrictions along the Rattle Snake Creek Basin was set to begin on Jan. 1, 2020 but Sen. Jerry Moran’s office announced Oct. 18 that Moran had met with Aurelia Skipwith, nominee to be the director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and had received assurances that Skipwith would work with local stakeholders before asking the Kansas Department of Agriculture to initiate an administrative order to regulate junior water rights.
Kelsey Olson, KDA assistant secretary of agriculture, said this issue is not to be taken lightly. While FWS is not going ahead with their order to reduce irrigation usage, a solution is still needed and Olson wants local leadership to help find that solution.
David Barfield, KDA-DWR chief engineer, said it would take significant solutions to solve this problem.
“The challenge is to figure out an allocation solution that is fair,” Barfield said.
Junior waters rights have to follow regulations but so does Quivira. Senior water rights holders are required to have a conservation plan to make sure they are using water efficiently and not wasting water.
It’s unknown how much time is available to find the solution to the problem. The press release was a surprise to the Division of Water Resources so for now, its a waiting game to find out when a solution has to be reached.
“We have not come to a conclusion. Until they tell me, I’m in a wait mode. They are in the drivers seat,” Barfield said.
The KDA will continue to be involved with this issue and seek to find the best solution possible.
“We’re doing our best to protect your water rights and your neighbor down the road,” Olson said.
Following the information session, there was a question and answer period. Questions were put on cards and Dana Ladner, KDA outreach and education coordinator read each card and announced which speaker would answer the questions. Numerous questions were presented including why were irrigation system end guns used in the area. Barfield said a statute requires irrigation systems to not waste water and end guns are an efficient use of water.
Another asked if Quivira could convert their water rights and drill their own wells. Barfield said the basin was closed and they couldn’t get an appropriation a this time. Besides, the refuge is not a place to drill deep wells and pump water because its “nasty stuff.”
Times are tough in agriculture and this issue is just another that can cause emotional stress. The KDA is developing a site for the agriculture industry to help farmers and producers deal with financial and emotional stress. The new site kansasagstress.org will be up and running in a couple of weeks, Olson said.
Another large crowd attended the 7 p.m. meeting on the same subject, with similar questions and answers provided.