Water Law Basics

Why Do I Need a Water Right?

Water, like other natural resources enjoyed so bountifully by Kansans, is protected for the use and benefit of the citizens of this state. Water should be used wisely and good conservation measures should be practiced by all water users.

The Kansas Water Appropriation Act protects both the people's right to use Kansas water and the state's supplies of groundwater and surface water for the future.

The law is administered by the Kansas Department of Agriculture's Division of Water Resources, which issues permits to appropriate water, regulates usage, and keeps records of all water rights in the state.

It is illegal for individuals in Kansas to use water without holding a vested right or applying for, and receiving a permit to appropriate water from the Division of Water Resources.

The exception is water used solely for domestic purposes - that is, water primarily used for the household, watering livestock on pasture, or watering up to two acres of lawn and gardens. No permit is needed for that class of water usage.

The Water Appropriation Act affects all Kansans. If you are a farmer who uses irrigation to grow crops, it requires you to obtain a permit and to make yearly reports of the water you use. If you are a city dweller who drinks, washes with, or cavorts in, city water, you likely are able to do so because your municipality has a water right or rights.

The right to use Kansas water is based on the principle of "first in time - first in right." In times of shortage, that means the earliest water right or permit holders have first rights to use the water. The maintenance of water right and permit records allows Kansas water to be apportioned fairly.

. . . the Water Appropriation Act is Kansas law. Violating it can subject you to a maximum of six months in jail and a $500 fine.

Why is it so important to follow proper procedures to obtain a water right and report use of water? One reason is to protect the investment in your right to divert water for beneficial use on your farm for irrigation, a feedlot, recreational reservoir, or in your municipality, water supply district, or industry. Another reason is to protect Kansas water resources for tomorrow and future generations. Finally, you should remember that the Water Appropriation Act is Kansas law. Violating that law can subject you to a maximum of six months in jail and a $500 fine.

Step by Step Guide to Obtaining a Water Right

1. File an Application

Contact the Division of Water Resources for an application to appropriate water for beneficial use. Anyone who wishes to use water for any purpose other than domestic use must file an application accompanied by a filing fee which is determined by the amount of water to be appropriated. Obtain a form from the Division of Water Resources, 1320 Research Park Drive, Manhattan, Kansas 66502. Applications filed within a groundwater management district are reviewed by the district, and recommendations are made based on the policies, and rules and regulations of that district.

2. Receive Permit

If it is determined that: (1) water is available at the desired location; (2) its appropriation will not interfere with other area water rights, minimum desirable streamflow, or the public interest; and (3) it meets all other Division requirements, the application may be approved.

3. Complete Diversion Works

After the permit is issued by the Division of Water Resources, its holder is free to complete the authorized diversion works by drilling and completing a well, pumpsite or building a dam within the time allowed. Check valves also are required for safety in chemigation use. The permit holder then must notify the Division of Water Resources of the completion of the diversion works and submit the required field inspection fee. If required, water flow meters must be installed before water is put to use and before a notice of completion of the diversion works can be accepted. (A dam impounding more than 50 acre-feet of water requires an additional permit from the Division's Water Structures Section.)

4. Develop the Water Right

At this point the applicant has a specific period of time, usually four to five years, to "perfect"- or to develop -the water right by actually using water as authorized by the permit. If more time is needed, an extension of time must be requested in writing with the required fee, before expiration of this period. The water right is based on the year of the largest amount of beneficial use within the terms, conditions, and limitations of the approval of the application.

5. Field Inspection

After the water right has been completed, the Division of Water Resources conducts a field inspection to determine such things as rates of diversion of water, where and how the water has been used, as well as other numerous details of the actual operation in relation to the perfection - or development - of the water right. These tests will determine the maximum and normal rates of water diversion. Water use reports and other information also will be analyzed to determine the quantity of water diverted and acres irrigated each year within the limits of the permit.

6. Comment on Draft Certificate

After the Division of Water Resources determines the extent of water right developed, the water right holder will receive a draft certificate of appropriation. He or she has 30 days to comment on the proposed certificate of appropriation.

7. Certificate Issued

When the water right holder receives the actual certificate, he or she must file it with the Register of Deeds in each county where the authorized point or points of diversion is/are located.

8. Water Use Reported Yearly

After the application to appropriate water is approved, the permit holder is required to complete and return a yearly report of water use no later than March 1 of each year. The forms, which are mailed in January to the permit holder or to the designated water use correspondent, are for the previous year's usage. The Kansas legislature has made the report of water use mandatory and authorized fines for late reporting. Deliberate falsification of data on a report is a class C misdemeanor. Water use reports are used to perfect the water right and prove it has not been abandoned. Reports must be submitted even if water was not used in the previous year and the reason for nonuse explained.

Special Cases

Abandonment of a Water Right

A water right is considered abandoned after five successive years of nonuse without due and sufficient cause. Examples of due and sufficient cause for nonuse include such reasons as water being unavailable from the source of supply, adequate moisture is provided by natural precipitation for production of crops normally requiring full or partial irrigation within the region of the state in which the place of use is located, or temporary pollution of the water supply. Also, a groundwater right, in an area that has been closed to new appropriations by rule, regulation or order of the chief engineer shall be deemed to have due and sufficient cause for nonuse and shall not be deemed abandoned.

Changing a Water Right

If a water right holder wants to change such things as the place of use, the type of water use, or a point of diversion, he or she is required to file an application for change with the Division of Water Resources, and to pay the appropriate filing fee. Some parts of Kansas have no water available for new permits. In those areas, acquisition of an existing water right and obtaining approval to change one of the features may be the only way to meet such a change request.

Temporary Permits

Temporary permits are available for water use which will last less than six months and generally consist of less than four million gallons of water used for non-domestic purposes. Temporary permits, which often are issued for such purposes as oil well drilling or small construction projects, must be accompanied by a filing fee.

Where to Find Help

You can contact the Division of Water Resources at the Kansas Department of Agriculture, 1320 Research Park Drive, Manhattan, Kansas 66502-5000, or call (785) 564-6640.

For your convenience, Division of Water Resources field offices are located across the state.