How will Big Bend Groundwater Management fight a lawsuit filed by Audubon of Kansas?

Fran Brownell
Pratt Tribune
Conservation of natural resources has always been a priority for water rights groups in Kansas, so a recent lawsuit filed by Audubon of Kansas does not sit well with a group that has worked so hard to fight for landowners rights in an equitable way in Stafford, Pratt, Kiowa, Reno and Edwards counties.

Big Bend Groundwater Management District 5 Board of Directors will take a proactive stance in response to the Audubon of Kansas lawsuit pertaining to Quivera National Wildlife Refuge water rights, announcing this action at the GMD5 Annual Meeting held Thursday evening, February 18, at the Twilight Theatre in Greensburg, also broadcast via Zoom.

“We have an inherent interest in the outcome of the case, so the board has asked legal counsel to take steps to intervene in the lawsuit,” GMD5 District Manager Orrin Feril said.

Participants in the meeting also included Stacy Armitage of Denver, assistant regional director of U. S. Fish and Wildlife service for the Department of the Interior, and Quivira National Wildlife Refuge Manager Mike Oldham, who referenced water conservation efforts his staff is taking, including removal of woody species and of cattails and sediment along canals.

Stafford County farmer-rancher Leah Chadd, who was among the dozen-plus GMD5 members in attendance, questioned whether GMD5 members would be faced with water rights administration cuts down the road if they follow the plan to go forward with augmentation and other stipulations of the Memorandum of Agreement put in place last July with support of U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Great Bend).

Responding to Chadd’s query, Feril stated that GMD5 has been fully funded by the Natural Resource Conservation Service, which gives authorization to go forward with design and evaluation of the augmentation plan stipulated by the July 2020 joint agreement.

“The conservation programs we are putting in place go directly to our mission of conserving water for future generations by putting water to the best beneficial use,” Feril said.

The GMD5 annual meeting was held in conjunction with the Central Kansas Water Bank Association, with GMD5 President

Darrell Wood, Edwards County, presided on behalf of GMD5 and  John Janssen, represented Kiowa County, presiding as  CKWBA chairman. Fred Grunder is the Pratt County representative and Janssen, Kerry Froetschner of Pawnee County, and Tom Taylor, representative at-large— were all reelected to three-year terms.

GMD5 Division of Water Resources Manager Jeff Lanterman reported via Zoom, updating members on activities of his office, including compliance investigation and assistance with change applications.

Prior to the annual meeting, GMD5 board members held their February monthly meeting in the Twilight Theatre Conference Room, which included a presentation on the annual audit for the district, which indicated no financial discrepancies or deficiencies of the district.

“It was good report,” Feril said. “We passed with flying colors.”