Dodge City — For 110 years, the Coger family has ranched in Kiowa and Comanche counties. It is a heritage Edward Coger hopes to pass on to his grandchildren.
His land includes several farm ponds used to water his cattle. He spreads few chemicals on his land and is careful to keep the prairie in good condition.
"I do these things because I care about my land," the Wilmore rancher said.
"I don't think anybody cares as much about the environmental quality of my land and my water than I do."
So when Coger stepped before federal environmental regulators at a public hearing Thursday night in Dodge City, he did so saying he resented that he and his fellow landowners had to come at all to defend their property rights.
He was one of more than 500 people, many of them farmers, who came to Dodge City for a showdown with the Environmental Protection Agency over a proposed tightening of water quality regulations on Kansas streams and farm ponds. About 400 farmers, ranchers and state officials packed a meeting on the same topic the previous night at the Kansas Museum of History in Topeka.
In arid western Kansas few things other than water would draw a standing-room crowd in the middle of fall harvest.
Tempers on the issue are as hot as the scorching temperatures of this parched summer.
But the shootouts that made this cattletown famous are now played out in the courtrooms, and the threat of more lawsuits was the weapon quickly drawn by both sides.
Allie Devine, spokeswoman for the Kansas Livestock Assn., said the proposed new rules violate private property rights and Kansas water law. She said she hoped she didn't see the EPA regulators in court.
Charles Benjamin, the attorney for Kansas Sierra Club, was far less subtle. It was a lawsuit from his group that spurred the EPA to take action in Kansas.
Benjamin told EPA officials they would see him in court if the proposed rules were not promulgated.
"We are going to sue them every opportunity we get if they don't carry out the law," he said.
State officials joined farmers in condemning what is viewed as an EPA intrusion. Kansas is one of only three states where the federal agency has stepped in to enforce water quality standards after rejecting state regulations.
State Agriculture Secretary Jamie Clover Adams said the federal proposal focuses on process rather than substance.
"Kansas does not need EPA's control," she said.
The secretary said 80 percent of Kansas streams have water in them only intermittently, but the Kansas Department of Health and Environment used its discretion and its working knowledge of the state when it made it designations.
"As Kansas secretary of agriculture, part of my job is sticking up for our state's leading industry, particularly when they are getting a raw deal," she said.