U.S. Water News Online
GREAT BEND, Kan. -- A long-standing water rights dispute
between the Quivira National Wildlife Refuge and irrigators has ended
in a water management plan.
David Pope, chief engineer of the state's Division of Water
Resources, said he signed a letter accepting the Rattlesnake Creek
basin management strategies.
The proposal is based on voluntary water conservation measures --
including a water rights purchase program that would retire water
rights and a water banking concept to redistribute water supplies in
``If it works, nobody gets totally shut off,'' said Pope, who is
referred to as the state's water czar.
The basin area -- which encompasses parts of Stafford, Edwards,
Kiowa, Rice, Reno, Barton, Pawnee, Pratt, Ford and Clark counties --
is the first project area in Kansas to finalize its water resources
management plan. The area encompasses 1,303 square miles.
The Quivira refuge -- which has an older, more senior water right
than many irrigators in the basin -- would get less water under the
new management plan than if the state's existing water laws were
strictly enforced, Pope said.
Quivira, one of the world's top spots for bird watching, attracts
hundreds of thousands of migrating birds annually and is a prime
duck-hunting spot. The refuge was not getting enough water during dry
years because of heavy irrigation use further upstream.
The Rattlesnake Creek plan, the result of a cooperative effort
that began in 1993, creates a healthier basin where people can live
and work together in a region with a stable economic base, Pope said.
The plan sets a 12-year implementation period to see if it will
work before the state imposes cutbacks based on existing water
``This really sets up an opportunity,'' Pope said. ``If it works
through voluntary measures, the problem goes away.''
One of the cornerstones of the voluntary reduction plan is a water
rights purchase program. In the Rattlesnake plan, the state would
join with Groundwater Management District No. 5 to buy water rights,
which would then be retired, to restore streamflows or reverse the
decline of groundwater.
The price would be established on a bid basis.
In Rattlesnake Creek, the plan calls for the purchase of
2,083-acre feet of water, or 4.5 percent of the stream appropriations
in the basin. It also calls for the purchase of 8,333 acre feet of
groundwater appropriations, about 5.9 percent of the total available.
Another major part of the plan is water banking. The idea, which
lead a Special Legislative Committee to recommend drafting
legislation for consideration in this legislative session, would
provide incentives for water conservation and redistribution of water
within a basin.
In the Rattlesnake Creek basin, the plan calls for conservation
easements that provide incentives to move water away from
hydrologically sensitive areas.
Other conservation measures call for installation of 10 weather
stations to measure crop water use to help irrigators make best use
of their water, education programs on irrigation scheduling, and a
voluntary program to remove irrigation pivot guns in exchange for
lesser reduction in the water rights for certain wells.
``We've paved a lot of new ground with this first project,'' Pope
In some basins, officials had problems even getting people to talk
to each other because they were afraid of the impact a water
management plan would have on their way of life, he said.
Three other basins in Kansas now working on water plans include:
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