Water Management


Water is the lifeblood of Flint Hills National Wildlife Refuge, and its management is varied and complex.

Historically, the Neosho River floodplain was covered with hundreds of shallow wetlands in the springtime.  As spring progressed into summer, these wetlands dried, producing (“moist soil”) plants to grow.  When it rains during the fall the wetlands fill with water, and provide habitat and nutrition for migrating waterfowl. 

Most of these natural wetlands have been lost throughout the river floodplain because of agriculture and other developments.  To mimic the natural wet and dry cycles on the Refuge, the staff actively mange over 2,500 acres of restored wetland habitat through the use of pumps, levees, and water control structures. 

Water Supply to Flint Hills NWR

Flint Hills NWR receives water from three primary sources: rainfall, pumping, and stream flow from various creeks.  Heavy rainfall in early fall will often fills the wetlands located throughout the Refuge for the fall migration. Rainfall in the spring replenishes the wetlands with water for the spring migration.  Also as the rainfall supplies the water to the various creeks, the Refuge staff is then able to divert some of the runoff to help fill the wetlands that didn't fill up just from local rainfall. Pumping is another source of water for the wetlands.  The Refuge normally begins pumping in late September or early October depending on resource management needs.  Pumping normally last for eight to twelve weeks to fill all the wetlands.  The water for pumping is taken out of the Neosho River and Eagle Creek drainages.

Water 1 

Neosho River(Grand River)

Water Management 

Once the water has arrived the management of it is the important task.  The Refuge uses a series of man-made levees to separate wetland units.  In different locations on these levees, there are water control structures. These structures allow Refuge staff to move water from one unit to the next, or to return the water back into the Neosho River. The Refuge has a total of around 2,500 acres of wetlands to manage, all with different water management needs.

WM 1


Water control structure

Moist Soil Units

Flint Hills NWR wetlands are managed intensively to create optimal feeding and sheltering conditions for migratory ducks and geese.  Within these moist soil impoundments, managers manipulate water, vegetation and soil to create optimal growing conditions for seed producing plants such as millet, smartweed, marsh elder, pigweed, and bur marigold.  During the summer, these annual plants grow, bloom, and set seed. Then in the Fall, water is returned to the basin, providing access to these highly nutritious waterfowl foods.  

water 4