Kickapoos push for a large northeast Kansas water project. Water officials are skeptical.
The Kickapoo Tribe wants to build a $137 million pipeline system that takes water from the Missouri River and distributes it across rural northeast Kansas along the way to the water-poor tribal reservation and casino in Brown County.
But state water officials on Wednesday expressed skepticism about the plan, which is in early stages. Among other things, officials said, the proposed Kickapoo system could undermine a state water-marketing program by providing water more cheaply to rural districts than the state can.
The Kickapoo plan depends upon passage of federal legislation and federal construction aid to the tribe. Tribal spokesmen said they would like to begin building as soon as next year, finishing the project by 2004.
Nancy Bear, tribal chairwoman, said she and other Kickapoo representatives will travel to Washington, D.C., next week to urge members of the state's congressional delegation to support the project. No legislation has yet been introduced.
State officials said they support the tribe's goal of improving the reservation's water supplies, but have doubts about including non-Indian communities in the plan.
``A lot more thought needs to go into this,'' said Tom Stiles of the Kansas Water Office. ``We don't want to be in a situation where (the state) is competing with the federal government giving away water. A lot more study needs to go into this before anybody saddles up for it.''
Stiles made his remarks during a meeting here Wednesday of the Kansas-Lower Republican Basin Advisory Committee. Three tribal spokesmen described the proposed pipeline and water treatment system to committee members gathered at the South Park Recreation Center.
The committee, along with 11 other river-basin advisory groups across the state, serves the Kansas Water Authority, a panel which plays a strong role in shaping Kansas water policies and program spending.
Mario Gonzalez, attorney general for the tribe, compared the Kickapoo proposal to the $263 million Mni Wiconi Project in South Dakota. When complete, that massive distribution system will divert water from the Missouri River to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and two non-Indian rural water districts along the way.
Gonzalez said that so far 33 Kansas communities and rural water districts in eight northeast counties have agreed to participate in the so-called Pikitanoi Project. Pikitanoi is Kickapoo for muddy water river, said John Thomas, a member of the tribal council.
``Why are Indians and non-Indians always fighting over these things when there is a common need,'' Gonzalez said. ``All we're doing is making a proposal to bring water to the area. It will help develop infrastructure and create jobs in an area where that's kind of limited right now. Good water for everybody. We do our share and everybody else does their share.''
Gonzalez said the tribe, which currently draws water from the Delaware River, began looking for a more reliable and plentiful water source after it lost a prospective chicken-processing factory last year because of inadequate water supply.
``If ever a drought hit,'' he said, ``I don't know what the Kickapoo Tribe would do.''
Gonzalez said federal treaties with the tribe assure it water rights in the Missouri or any nearby stream. The 30-square-mile Kickapoo reservation is about 26 miles from the Missouri River at its nearest point. Gonzalez said rights-of-way for the proposed pipeline are largely in place or could be negotiated with the various local agencies that have shown interest in participating in the project.
Terry Duvall, director of water marketing for the Kansas Water Office, said in a later telephone interview with the Lawrence Journal-World that the Kickapoo plan could undermine the state's large investment in water supply.
The state, she said, has purchased from the federal government rights to water in Perry Lake, the federal reservoir nearest the reservation. The state would like to recoup its investment by selling the Perry water through a state sponsored water assurance district to the northeast Kansas communities and water districts that are enlisting in the Kickapoo plan.
``We originally signed a contract for 150,000 acre feet,'' of water in Perry Lake, she said. ``We already have paid $1.5 million for 25,000 acre feet committed to the assurance program. There's another $7.7 million that we're deferring payment on until we get future users on line. But we are on line to pay for that and with interest accruing, that's $10.7 million.''
Duvall said northeast Kansas communities are joining the project because federal aid potentially available to the tribe would mean low-cost water for them, too.
``It's something for practically nothing,'' she said. ``Ten cents on the dollar when you sign up. I don't blame anybody. I'd probably do the same thing. But $137 million is a lot to spend for 4.5 million gallons of water a day. Lawrence built a new treatment plant for 10 million gallons a day and certainly didn't spend that kind of money. It covers all of Douglas County and parts of Osage, Shawnee, Miami and Franklin counties with those service lines.''
Gonzalez said after the committee meeting that he thought it went well. But tribal Chairwoman Bear said it was, ``one of the chilliest,'' receptions that the tribe has yet received for its proposal.
The basin advisory committee's approval is not necessary for the tribe to proceed with its plan. The Kickapoo's presentation was for informational purposes.
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