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Archive for Thursday, November 24, 2005

Osborne seeks break on river pact

November 24, 2005

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— U.S. Rep. Tom Osborne has asked Kansas and Colorado to give Nebraska a break on the Republican River agreement.

The 3rd Congressional District Republican, who is among three candidates for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, asked those states' attorneys general to reconsider implementing the settlement terms because of "unforeseen circumstances that have occurred since it was negotiated."

"It is my understanding that the settlement agreement did not take into account the effect of a multiyear drought on the river or its users," he said.

"The drought's impact has significantly affected instream flows in the Republican River."

In 1943, a Kansas-Nebraska compact allocated the annual water supply in the Republican River Basin, with Nebraska getting 49 percent, Kansas getting 40 percent and Colorado 11 percent.

In 1998, Kansas sued Nebraska, claiming that Nebraska used more water than allocated.

Nebraska used more water than the settlement allowed in 2003 and 2004 and likely did so again this growing season, officials said. But now compliance is measured over a five-year average of water usage, with this period starting in 2003.

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

Officials have also said that pulling 43,000 acres of land out of production would save about 21,000 acre-feet of water over three years, at the cost of $2.6 million in production losses for farmers.

Osborne said that in Nebraska, producers are entering into Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program contracts in the Republican River Basin.

"The (contracts) will increase water conservation in the basin by participants voluntarily removing land from agricultural production for a specified period of time," he said. "Unfortunately, the program is in its infancy, and its benefits will better be able to be calculated in the future."

According to Aaron Sanderford, Gov. Dave Heineman's communications director, Heineman has not contacted the other states regarding the river basin agreement.

Sanderford said Atty. Gen. Jon Bruning advised the governor that the agreement does address a multiyear drought.

"If there are genuine opportunities, we'll have to address them when the time comes," Sanderford said.

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