By BECKY KISER
"Perplexed, more than worried."
That's how Hays City Manager Toby Dougherty describes his reaction to the recent decision by the group WaterPACK to appeal a ruling that allows the city to move forward with the R9 Ranch water transfer process from Edwards County to Ellis County.
"It's their legal right to appeal the ruling. We don't think they'll be successful. We're more perplexed with the tactic and stance they're taking because it could have bigger ramifications to water right owners and ag-industrial consumptive uses of water, conversions of water from irrigation to another use."
WaterPACK, the Water Protection Association of Central Kansas, is a non-profit organization of irrigators in south-central Kansas.
On June 30, Bruce Gatterman, chief district judge of the Edwards County District Court, officially denied WaterPACK’s petition for judicial review of the state’s order allowing the conversion of water irrigation rights of the R9 to municipal use for Hays and Russell, which own the ranch.
The two towns had filed an application in 2015 for that change and use of the water.
Judge Gatterman’s decision affirmed the Kansas Department of Agriculture’s chief engineer’s 2019 approval of the cities’ change applications.
The approval was challenged shortly thereafter by WaterPACK.
Gatterman's ruling "essentially wraps up the first phase of the regulatory process which is converting the water rights from irrigation to municipal," according to Dougherty.
"It's almost like they're risking doing some longterm damage to the water economy just to try to stop Hays and Russell from following the rules that are in place for everybody."
The cities have voluntarily agreed to use the water resource sustainably. By converting the R9 to municipal use, less water will be used than it was when fully irrigated for farming.
"What they're advocating does not follow rules and regulations," Dougherty contends. "We're gonna focus our efforts on the water transfer process and to prove the statewide benefit of bringing the water to the Hays and Russell area."
This is the first time the Transfer Act will be triggered in Kansas, a statutory requirement if more than 2,000 acre-feet of water is moved more than 35 miles.
The state's water transfer process is a long one and is dictated by statute.
City staff is working with the project engineer, Burns & McDonnell, Kansas City, to get a contract proposal for the pipeline and wellfield design.
Work is also underway on a proposal for a land acquisition agent for the pipeline.
"Assuming we get sort of a firm schedule on the transfer proceedings, once those proceedings start that's when it's the intent to get the design contract in front of the governing body.
"I would love to see that happen later this fall, but we can do it early next year if we need to," Dougherty said.
The 2023 city budget includes $9 million dollars in capital improvements for design of the R9 project.