The clash over water rights between the operators of a federal wildlife refuge in south central Kansas and farmers could potentially wind up in court if the two sides don’t reach an agreement on water usage.
The Quivira National Wildlife Refuge has been complaining that it’s not getting its fair share of the water coming from the Rattlesnake Creek into its marsh.
The federally operated refuge has been arguing for decades that too much groundwater is being pumped by farmers and wells. But a farmer says her livelihood depends on the water coming from the creek, Kansas News Service reported.
Wendy Mawhirter, who farms wheat, corn and soybeans near the refuge, said cutting back on water usage would cause an array of negative outcomes, including a loss in profits.
“Our schools wouldn’t be as good. Our little grocery story might shut down,” Mawhirter said. “We wouldn’t be able to buy machinery.”
Meanwhile, refuge manager Mike Oldham said the water is “irreplaceable.”
“You can’t put it back there,” he said. “Once it’s gone, it’s gone.”
The state Department of Agriculture, which oversees water rights, launched a two-year investigation in 2013 into the problem after the refuge filed a complaint with the agency.
Kansas Chief Engineer David Barfield said the refuge is being damaged and “something very significant needs to happen to remedy that.”
The current proposed solution suggests building water wells for the refuge could use to bring in additional water. The proposal also calls for a 15% cut in groundwater usage in the Rattlesnake Creek watershed.
Under the current Kansas law, the reductions for each well would be determined based on seniority and historical use of the water. Seniority is vital when it comes to water rights in the state: the older the right, the more likely one will use the water before it runs out. The refuge’s right to water from the creek dates to 1957— one if the oldest in the region.
But Mawhirter said the cuts would be unfair.
“Quivira doesn’t have to make a living off of their water,” she said. “We do.”
State officials had planned water cuts Jan. 1, but Republican U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran urged the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials to hold off on pulling the plug and resume negotiations with farmers.
Meanwhile, Oldham said state officials to remedy the situation. But if negotiations fail, the issue will likely end up in court.
Read the original article thehour.com here.