Audobon of Kansas files water-rights lawsuit against the state because of groundwater pumping

Jennifer Stultz
Pratt Tribune
Audubon of Kansas, a non-profit wildlife conservate group based in Manhattan, Kansas, has filed a lawsuit in federal court concerning the water rights at Quivira National Wildlife Refuge, in Stafford County.

On January 15, Audubon of Kansas filed suit in federal court to restore the water rights belonging to the Quivira National Wildlife Refuge (NWR). Audubon of Kansas is a nonprofit environmental organization with more than 4,000 members concentrated in Kansas, Nebraska, and the central Great Plains. Defendants are David Bernhardt, Secretary of the Interior, and other federal and state officials, who have failed over many years to protect the refuge's water priority, which dates to 1957.

Quivira NWR encompasses 22,135 acres and lies mostly in Stafford County, southeast of Great Bend. It is a wetland of international importance and provides sanctuary to a wide variety of waterfowl, shore birds and other wetland species, several of them listed as endangered or threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act. For example, the refuge is a key stopover point for the federally endangered Whooping Crane as it migrates annually between its breeding grounds in Canada and its wintering grounds on the Texas coast. The refuge annually attracts thousands of bird watchers, hunters, and other recreation seekers.

Quivira NWR has suffered from a shortage of water for the last 34 years, because of excessive groundwater pumping upstream in the Rattlesnake Creek basin by irrigators, whose water rights are junior to that of the refuge. These facts were documented most recently in 2016 by the state's chief engineer for water resources.

Nevertheless, the U.S. Department of Interior, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Kansas Secretary of Agriculture and the chief engineer have neglected and refused to perform their statutory duties to restore the water to which the refuge is entitled.

AOK's lawsuit seeks an injunction, a declaratory judgment, and an order of mandamus, all for the purpose of compelling these officials to do their duties as required by law.