Estes, Moran applaud temporary nix of water grab in Kansas

U.S. Rep. Ron Estes (R-KS) and U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS) on Oct. 11 commended an agreement struck between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the Kansas Department of Agriculture to collaborate on the water rights issues surrounding the Rattlesnake Creek Basin and Quivira National Wildlife Refuge.

“While I’m pleased that the FWS has paused its water rights grab, it’s imperative that FWS works collaboratively and in good faith with Kansas stakeholders to develop a long-term solution that ensures our residents have access to water for years to come,” Rep. Estes said.

The USFWS has agreed to conditionally pause its request to secure its senior water right next year in an effort to, for now, resolve the water needs in the Rattlesnake Creek Watershed. 

The USFWS, which manages the refuge, sought to evoke its senior water right to secure water for the Quivira from the basin against protests from state and local officials. The basin has long provided water to the region’s agriculture industry and to migratory and resident wildlife in the refuge, according to Sen. Moran’s office, and the lawmakers are concerned about the implications for farmers, ranchers, and local communities.

Specifically, the USFWS on Oct. 11 said it would cease pressing its water claims for the refuge while a compromise is worked out between the USFWS, the Kansas Ag Department’s Division of Water Resources, and local stakeholders. The deal calls for a working group of impacted stakeholders to be formed to work on an agreement that would be implemented starting in January 2025.

“I appreciate the effort from the FWS to listen to Kansans and hear their concerns with the Rattlesnake Creek Watershed,” said Sen. Moran. “It is important we establish long-term solutions that support the refuge and the regional economy, and I am pleased that all parties are working together towards a sustainable future for the watershed and our Kansas producers.”

Earlier this year, Rep. Estes met with USFWS Director Martha Williams to advocate for Kansans’ need for water access from the Rattlesnake Creek Watershed. The congressman also has worked with the Kansas federal delegation, state leaders, and local residents to develop a solution that doesn’t negatively impact his home-state constituents, according to information provided by his staff.

“Families, small businesses, and communities in rural Kansas depend on the reliable source of water that comes from the Rattlesnake Creek Watershed,” said Rep. Estes. “The Biden administration and D.C. bureaucrats have threatened to upend the livelihood of Kansans who rely on the water from Rattlesnake Creek for themselves and for ag production that feeds and fuels the world.”

Sen. Moran and Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly (D) told a local newspaper that the pact could end a controversy that dates back to 2016. Both lawmakers also have been pushing for the two agencies to seek a sustainable and viable solution, according to media reports.