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Archive for Saturday, November 19, 2005

Republican River options explored at gathering

November 19, 2005

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— Taking hundreds of thousands of acres out of irrigation or pumping groundwater into the Republican River could help reduce the shortfall in the basin.

Those were among the options discussed at a meeting of about 60 state and local water officials at the Tri-Basin Natural Resources District in Holdrege on Thursday.

With the ongoing drought, Nebraska must work to reduce the shortfall as soon as possible, said Ann Bleed, acting director of the state's Department of Natural Resources.

Nebraska may have to transfer 100,000 acre-feet of water into the river basin by 2007 or pay an estimated $15 million in fees and damages in 2008, a group of irrigators and related businesses estimated in late August.

The 1943 Kansas-Nebraska compact allocates the annual virgin water supply in the Republican basin, with Nebraska getting 49 percent, Kansas getting 40 percent and Colorado using 11 percent.

In 1998 Kansas sued Nebraska, claiming Nebraskans were violating the 1943 agreement.

Compliance now is based on a five-year accounting, which started in 2003.

Nebraska used more water than allowed in 2003 and 2004 and likely did so again this growing season.

But because compliance is measured as an average over several years, there is still time to make changes. Bleed said her staff will examine the options and will hold more meetings with local regulators soon.

She said, for example, that if 73,000 acres between Arapahoe and Harlan County Lake were not irrigated, Nebraska could recover about 21,000 acre-feet of water over three years. That's about half the amount Nebraska would owe Kansas after next year, she said.

But about $4.5 million would be needed to compensate the people who farm those 73,000 acres.

Pulling 43,000 acres of land out of production below Harlan County Lake would save a like amount of water and cost about $2.6 million to pay farmers for their production losses.

Her department has about $1 million available for such compensation payments, she said.

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