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Water rights
Farmers and conservationists find common ground
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A memorandum of agreement signed July 25 in St. John is the first step toward a truce in the ongoing battle over water rights at Quivira National Wildlife Refuge and the farms and communities surrounding it.

Last Saturday, Sen. Jerry Moran hosted the Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) Aurelia Skipwith in Sedgwick and Stafford Counties to discuss ongoing FWS efforts to meet with Kansas farmers, ranchers and partners of our state’s agricultural and natural resource associations. Their stop at St. John was at the Quivira National Wildlife Refuge (NWR), which includes a water basin important for the local agriculture and regional economy.

“We had the opportunity to meet with staff and local stakeholders, as well as tour the refuge,” Moran said in his latest newsletter. “Thank you to Kansas Senators Carolyn McGinn and Mary Jo Taylor, as well as Representative Alicia Straub, for being with us.”

Sen. Moran called the agreement signed Saturday “the breakthrough we needed” and FWS Director Skipwith said the FWS wants to be a “good neighbor.” 

Quivira National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1955 to provide and protect vital habitat for migratory waterfowl in the Central Flyway. It has been designated as a wetland of international importance and is home to or visited by endangered and threatened species of birds. Its 22,135 acres lie mostly in northeastern Stafford County, but small parts extend into southwestern Rice and northwestern Reno counties. 

The Big Bend Groundwater Management District No. 5 covers Barton, Edwards, Kiowa, Pawnee, Pratt, Reno and Rice counties. Without the agreement offered last Saturday, farmers in the district might have to stop irrigating their crops. The future of area farms, businesses and communities is at stake.

The fact that people on both sides of the argument had good things to say Saturday is encouraging. When it comes to environmental issues, saving natural treasures like the Quivira Refuge for future generations shouldn’t have to come at the cost of farms, businesses and entire communities. Something has to give, but instead of choosing sides, perhaps we can acknowledge the issues and work toward a common solution.

The same approach should be taken with climate control. We know there will be winners and losers, but surely there are some solutions that can benefit the ecosystem and the humans who are part of it.