Landowners in Stafford County have struggled for years to find a balance when it comes to water rights for irrigating farmland and preserving the Quivira National Wildlife Refuge. Can there be a fair allocation that preserves the livelihood of farmers who depend on water for irrigation and the ecosystem at Quivira, which is located on the Central Flyway for migratory birds and has been designated a Wetland of International Importance?
Operated by the Fish and Wildlife Service, Quivira encompasses 22,135 acres and lies mostly in Stafford County, southeast of Great Bend. The U.S. Department of the Interior/Fish and Wildlife Service secured its water rights in 1957.
The 1,276 square mile Rattlesnake Creek Drainage Basin is primarily located in Stafford, Pawnee, Edwards, Kiowa and Ford counties, with very small portions in Clark, Barton, Rice and Reno counties. When all of the water rights of the basin are compared by priority, Quivira is senior to approximately 95% of the total. But the junior rights of agriculture producers have been factored in for years.
At the start of this year, Audubon of Kansas filed suit in U.S. District Court to restore the senior water that rights belong to Quivira, claiming irrigation along Rattlesnake Creek has hampered water flow into the refuge. A federal appeals court tossed out that lawsuit but a state lawsuit was filed by Audubon of Kansas in July.
Efforts continue to solve this problem outside of the courtroom. We need to preserve our rural communities in Stafford County and we need to preserve Quivira Wildlife Refuge, which is part of the community and also has global importance. Water, like land, is a finite resource. Somehow, in the words of U.S. Senator Jerry Moran (R-Kansas), local stakeholders and state leaders need to work together to find a solution that works for everyone.