HAYS — Faced with one nagging enemy of its longtime effort to pipe water from Edwards County, the city of Hays is looking into the nonprofit status of the Water Protection Association of Central Kansas.
Known as WaterPACK for short, the group has been a thorn in the side of Hays and Russell for years. The group has tried to stop the cities from exercising their water rights on a 7,000-acre ranch the two bought in 1995 to ensure a future municipal water supply, according to City Manager Toby Dougherty.
“Throughout this whole process we have only had one active opponent of this project,” said Dougherty, speaking Thursday evening to the Hays City Commission at its regular meeting in City Hall.
“I would like to be able to explain what WaterPACK is, but I can’t,” he said. “They claim nonprofit, but they are somewhat secretive and there’s not a lot of information out there about them. So I can’t tell you what they stand for or what their motives are.”
Most recently, WaterPACK this past summer filed a request in Edwards County for judicial review of Hays’ and Russell’s application with the Kansas Department of Agriculture Division of Water Resources. KDA in late March issued a master order saying Hays and Russell could convert their irrigation rights on the R9 Ranch from agriculture to municipal use.
Judicial review, Dougherty told the city commissioners on Thursday, means a judge will review the application and determine whether all the proper procedures, rules and regulations were followed.
The judge had planned on having a hearing back in September, he said, and that would set the schedule of events for the review, but WaterPACK’s attorney intervened.
“As attorneys do, they are doing their best to try to delay the procedure with every legal trick that they can take right now,” Dougherty said. “That hearing hasn’t happened because of some antics by the WaterPACK board.”
The group is a membership organization, he said, and members appear to be irrigators in the Groundwater Management District No. 5 area that includes the R9 Ranch.
“Is there a way to find out whether somebody’s file is a 501c or anything like that?” City Commissioner Eber Phelps asked Dougherty.
“They are registered as a 501c-6, however when we ask for their filing documents to determine why they’re registered as a 501c-6, they don’t have them,” Dougherty replied. “So we’ve requested them from the IRS because we would like to know why they exist, what their reason for non-profit status is.”