Hays and Russell now have the long-awaited go-ahead for the next step in their attempt to pipe water from the R9 Ranch in Edwards County.

The Kansas Department of Agriculture’s Division of Water Resources announced Thursday the cities can convert the irrigation rights on the ranch from agriculture to municipal use for the cities.

The next step now is that the water transfer proceeding will be initiated to determine whether it is in the state’s overall best interest to allow the transfer of the water, said the KDA press release.

David Barfield, chief engineer at the Division of Water Resources, contingently approved the change applications by the cities of Hays and Russell.

The city of Hays purchased the 7,000-acre ranch in 1995, and in 2015 Hays and Russell submitted applications to KDA–DWR to change the use made of water from irrigation to municipal use for the water rights on the property.

The approval documents signed this week include a 53-page master order as well as 32 individual change approvals, a review of the significant public input received, and other attachments and exhibits.

Due to the magnitude of the project, it has been subject to an expanded public review process, said the press release from the KDA.

The irrigation rights of the R9 Ranch include 32 water rights covering 56 points of diversion, which have a total authorized quantity of 7,647 acre-feet per year for irrigation.

As a result of the changes in use made of water, the total authorized quantity is being reduced to a maximum of 6,756.8 acre-feet a year for municipal use.

In addition, the chief engineer is imposing a 10-year rolling aggregate limitation of 48,000 acre-feet (an average of 4,800 acre-feet a year), based on the reasonable long-term yield of the R9 Ranch.

Due to the quantity of water and the distance it will be transported for its new use, the project also requires approval under the state's Water Transfer Act.

Now that the water use changes have been approved, the water transfer proceeding will be initiated to determine whether it is in the state’s overall best interest to allow the transfer of the water.

The KDA–DWR website dedicated to the project — agriculture.ks.gov/HaysR9 — has been updated with the approval documents and summary of the approvals’ terms and conditions.

The website will continue to be maintained with public information related to the upcoming water transfer proceedings, the release said.