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Kansas Supreme Court affirms ruling on water rights

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP)--The Kansas Supreme Court has affirmed a lower court ruling that a water district has the right to get a temporary easement to conduct groundwater test drilling on private property.

The case stemmed from a dispute between Gregory Shipe, a Lawrence area farmer, and other landowners against the Public Wholesale Water Supply District No. 25.

The water district, a water wholesaler made up of three rural water districts in Osage and Douglas counties in eastern Kansas, filed a petition to condemn land on the Shipes' farm for a temporary easement to drill test wells for water.

Shipe and other area farmers argued that the law doesn't allow the water district to condemn property in order to obtain water rights.

The water district said Shipe and the landowners couldn't fight its efforts because they don't own the water the district wanted to test. Shipe sought a court order to try to stop the eminent domain proceeding.

Douglas County District Court Judge Robert Fairchild sided with the water district in April 2008, and the Supreme Court accepted the case in June 2008 before it went to an appeals court.

The Supreme Court said June 26 said that although "the landowners have standing to object to a temporary easement on their property,'' they can't object to the condemnation of water rights they don't own.

In affirming the lower court's decision, the Supreme Court also said the fight was premature because the water district hasn't decided yet if it will seek permanent access to the property and water.

Shipe said June 29 it remains to be seen if the district will seek permanent access.

"It means we're not done,'' he said.

But Gary Hanson, the water district's lawyer, said the temporary easement to Shipe's land had expired, and the water district was seeking water elsewhere.

"Other options are being very aggressively pursued,'' Hanson said June 29.

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