The years-long effort by Hays to pump water 67 miles from its 7,000-acre R9 ranch in Edwards County is once again paused.

The matter now goes into the hands of a District Court Judge in Edwards County who will determine the schedule and procedure going forward, according to Hays city manager Toby Dougherty.

A group called WaterPACK, or Water Protection Association of Central Kansas, this past week took the one last step it can to try and stop Hays from taking the water for the city’s municipal use, Dougherty told the Hays City Commission during its regular work session Thursday evening.

As required by Kansas law in the lengthy regulatory process, the Kansas Department of Agriculture’s Division of Water Resources in late March finally issued a master order saying Hays and the city of Russell could convert the irrigation rights on the ranch from agriculture to municipal use.

“There are two checks in that process,” Dougherty told commissioners. “Check number one is entities could petition the secretary of agriculture for a review of the order. There was a petition of the review and the secretary declined to review the order.”

The last opportunity for intervention by an outside party is taking it to a judge, he said.

“With any state decision like this there’s an opportunity to petition for judicial review,” Dougherty said. “The Water Protection Association of Central Kansas, really our only opposition in this project, filed with the court in Edwards County a petition for judicial review.”

In the petition, WaterPACK officials say they don’t agree with the chief engineer’s finding on the master order.

“They rehashed all the arguments that they brought up as the master order was being drafted, to which the chief engineer pointed out they weren’t relevant to the situation,” Dougherty said. “There’s no new information introduced.”

The petition creates a legal interaction between WaterPACK and the Division of Water Resources. The Division of Water Resources, through its ag attorney, was set to file its answer to the petition at the end of last week, he said.

“It’s our attorney’s intention to file a motion to intervene on behalf of Hays, and there will be one filed on behalf of the city of Russell,” Dougherty said. “So once those motions have been filed, we are tied into the case. So we are party to this case.”

Dougherty said it’s up to the judge in the case how long a time period it takes to deliver a decision.

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 has been 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.

If allowed to proceed by the courts, 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.