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High Plains Journal Article: Agriculture has stake in Quivira's water claim

Agriculture has stake in Quivira's water claims

By Jennifer Latzke

This article was taken directly from the High Plains Journal - October 28, 2019 Edition


For Brian Dunn, a farmer, cattleman and swine producer north of St. John, Kansas, the Quivira water issue isn't just an issue for today's management decisions. it's an issue that will alter the trajectory of this three sons who want to return to the family farm some day. 

Dunn raises pigs, cattle and crops in the heart of what the Kansas Department of Agriculture Water Resources Division calls "Zone C" in its impairment map. That's close to Rattlesnake Creek, which is at the heart of the impairment complaint. The Dunns have been monitoring the Quivira process for years, but when the KDA-WRD administrative action letter came to their mailbox, it was a gut-punch. 

"We got a letter about two or three weeks ago that cut 35% of our irrigation water and 50% of our water for our swine operation, and that was going to go into effect at the end of the year, if Quivira called for their water," Dunn said. "All of a sudden our operational plans were going to have to change, because what do you do with a sow herd you can't water?

"It's pretty hard to change a 50-year-old operation in three months," he said.

Dunn said with reduced pumping the farm would fall out of its production system because the farm couldn't supply the number of pigs needed for its profitability. That would trickle into affecting the employees the farm is able to hire in the very rural Stafford County, where agriculture is the key economic driver.

"I have three young boys who would hopefully come back to the farm, and this changes that trajectory drastically," Dunn said. "We were looking at expanding our cattle operation at some point and that takes water. If we can't secure water for that operation it changes our future of farming.

Already, farmers like Dunn are adopting irrigation technologies and tools to make the most of their precious groundwater pumping, he explained. From dropped nozzles on pivots, to drip tape, farmers irrigate differently than even a decade ago. But, you can't change the water use of livestock, he added. They're going to drink what they're going to drink, he said.

The news from Sen. Jerry Moran's office securing a promise from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to delay for a bit gives farmers and locals like Dunn some breathing room. Dunn Said that should allow GMD No. 5 more time to work on LEMA proposals that meet statutory requirements and some of the needs of all parties concerned.

"And, we have a reprieve that we can continue to come to the table, to find some solution that doesn't end us economically in our community, ends our farming operations, or changes it drastically," Dunn said. He added that Stafford County's economic stability is tied to agriculture, and while there is some oil production, nothing else, no business or industry, would generate the same amount of tax revenue that agriculture does for the county.

"The wildlife was here long before anyone else, and that refuge had been agricultural ground, had been grazed," Dunn said. While Quivira is tasked with ensuring protected sanctuary for migratory birds, those same birds feed on the agricultural fields surrounding the refuge--depending on the very pivots that may be limited if Quivira calls for its water, he explained. And, without agricultural as the foundation for the local economy, keeping the local services that support visitors to Quivira will be even tougher.

"There's no reason we can't work together and find a solution for all of us," Dunn said. "It's a big issue, and everybody is really frustrated and discouraged to some degree about what will happen to our community. This issue is causing grief and stress about the what-ifs."

Jennifer M. Latzke can be reached at 620-227-1807 or


This article was taken directly from the High Plains Journal - October 28, 2019 Edition