The deadline has been extended to comment on the first draft of the water impairment investigation report for Quivira National Wildlife Refuge.

The extension, now set for May 13, was announced Friday in response to a request from Lynn Preheim, the managing partner of the Wichita office of the Stinson, Leonard and Street law firm.

The latest extension now means the comment period for the impairment complaint report stands at 154 days. The comment period started at 60 days but has been extended multiple times.

In announcing the extension, the Division of Water Resources didn’t indicate who Preheim represents. The agency also didn’t indicate when he made the extension request or why.

After the May 13 deadline has passed, provided it’s not extended once again, DWR will begin work on incorporating comments as they prepare a second draft.

That second draft is scheduled to be released to the public May 30, with a second comment period set to expire July 1.

The final draft of the impairment report is slated to be completed by July 15.

Since the late 1980s, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been expressing concerns about the diminished flows in the Rattlesnake Creek, which runs into the Stafford County wetlands.

But after years of trying to work with stakeholders to find solutions, the service in April 2013 filed impairment with the Kansas Department of Agriculture. Its 1957 water right is senior to roughly 95 percent of the basin’s water users.

“We’re not receiving the water based on the seasonal needs of wildlife and habitat,” Mike Oldham, Quivira’s manager said in January

Quivira’s present certified water permit allows up to 14,600 acre feet of water to be diverted, according to the impairment letter filed in April 2013. Over the years, the Rattlesnake Creek stream flow has declined – largely due to overappropriation of the district, according to the letter.

Quivira, meanwhile, still depends on water – especially at different times of the year to grow food, cover resources and provide wetland water – and this overlaps with agricultural needs.

The state ag department’s Division of Water Resources has been investigating the impairment claim since 2013 and, in December, published its initial findings.

Quivira covers 22,135 acres, largely in Stafford County. Roughly 6,000 acres is wetlands, which support hundreds of species of wildlife, many of which are on the federal endangered species list.

The entire impairment file is available online. It includes Quivira’s original 1957 permit application, emails back and forth from DWR staff and FWS, reports and letters from the past 50 years, as well the the impairment letter. DWR Chief David Barfield’s impairment report is also on the department website.

The findings indicate junior water right pumping impairs Quivira by between 3,000 and 5,000 acre feet a year – depending on the year and season

At a Dec. 2 public meeting in St. John in Stafford County, Barfield and Agriculture Secretary Jackie McClaskey suggested junior water rights holders and Quivira sit down and work on compromise solutions.

Barfield hopes to receive a report on a tentative remedy in August.

No administration of water rights is planned for this year.

Mike Corn is a veteran ag reporter for The Hays Daily News. Kansas Agland Editor Amy Bickel contributed to this story.