Rotarians flocked to the Kansas Wetlands Education Center Saturday to hear 41st Kansas Governor Michael Hayden talk about the importance of the Cheyenne Bottoms wetlands as a natural resource and of water conservation in light of increased demands on a finite supply.
The message struck home with the audience. Rotary sponsors water conservation projects all over the world, from rain water harvesting in Africa to building drinking water pumping systems in Bombay.
He shared personal stories of his memories working as a graduate student at Fort Hays State University, doing field studies and using the trunk of his car as an improvised lab. Thanks to the partnerships forged between the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, Ft. Hays State University, The Nature Conservancy and groups like The Audubon Society, the wildlife area has come a long way since the 1960s when he first encountered it. As a young man, he drove all night in anticipation of hunting the next day. As the sun rose, he described the scene before him, of tens of thousands of waterfowl on the water.
Hayden called for leaders to exhibit better stewardship towards water sustainability. He pointed out that Kansas has the smallest percentage of public lands of any of the United States, and this includes the Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area. With so much of the open space in the state privately held, it is vitally important to teach young people to value the natural resources the state enjoys, he said.
Following the talk, Rotary District 5670 Governor Roger Marshall invited the audience to take a bus tour of the Cheyenne Bottoms before traveling back to the Highland Hotel.
Hayden then met with the staff of the Barton County Historical Society to share his recollections about Cheyenne Bottoms’ designation as a Wetlands of International Importance under the Ramsar convention. A transcript of the interview will be part of a future exhibit detailing the human interactions in and around the Cheyenne Bottoms from prehistory to the present date.
He stressed the importance of continuing to secure surface and water rights to sustain the bottoms into the future.
“The area is essentially an evaporative basin,” he said. “Even if we have the same water rights, we could still run out.”