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Archive for Saturday, February 9, 2008

Kansas seeks quick resolution to latest Republican River dispute

February 9, 2008

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— Kansas officials have asked those charged with administering an agreement over Republican River water usage for a quick resolution to the latest dispute between Kansas and Nebraska.

Attorney General Stephen Six on Friday asked the Republican River Compact Administration to address within the next 30 days Kansas' concerns that Nebraska is using more water from the river than allowed under a 65-year-old compact.

Six also sent a letter to Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning saying that state needs to remedy the situation.

"Kansas has been patient in waiting for Nebraska to take concrete action," Six wrote. "Nebraska's failure to comply with the compact and 2002 settlement is hurting Kansas farmers and communities. I am committed to protecting Kansas resources and ensuring our state receives our fair share of water."

A draft version written by Six's staff and inadvertently released used stronger language: "In the face of that patience, Nebraska has flouted its obligation under the compact and the 2003 settlement. Let me assure you, we are committed to getting our water."

At issue is an agreement between Kansas, Nebraska and Colorado that allocates water from the Republican River to the three states. Kansas contends that Nebraska is taking too much water from the river and is refusing to stop.

Nebraska contends that it is trying to come into compliance with rules on water use set by the U.S. Supreme Court and that Kansas' demands would force Nebraska to shut down wells for more than 40 percent of the irrigated acres in its part of the river basin.

Kansas sued Nebraska and Colorado over the river in 1998, alleging that it wasn't getting the water it was due. In 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court approved a settlement among the three states.

The Republican River Compact Administration is made up of one official from each of the three states.

Kansas' member of the administration, David Barfield, asked that compact administrators fast-track the matter and consider it at a March 11 meeting. He submitted a 40-page document outlining concerns and technical data on water flowing into Kansas from Nebraska.

"If it turns out that the dispute can't be resolved by the compact administration, we will have to advance the matter to nonbinding arbitration according to resolution procedures already agreed to by our states," said Barfield, chief engineer of the state Department of Agriculture's division of water resources.

Nebraska's member, Ann Bleed, who is the state's top water official and director of the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources, said fast-tracking the issue likely would put more pressure on Nebraska to reach a resolution with Kansas. But she said Nebraska already is on track to be in compliance with the compact over the long-term.

Kansas contends that Nebraska used an extra 82,870 acre feet of water in 2005 and 2006 and continues to take too much water from the river. One acre foot is equal to 325,851 gallons of water.

As a proposed remedy, Kansas has said that Nebraska officials should shut down wells within 2.5 miles of the river and its tributaries where irrigation started after 2000. Kansas also has asked for monetary damages for previous overuse.

Bleed disputed Six's description of Nebraska's concerns about how Kansas calculated water overuse as "minor."

"They are not insignificant," Bleed said of the water accounting issues. "If you think 8,000, 10,000 acre feet of water is insignificant, you have more water than we have."

North and south forks of the Republican flow from northeast Colorado into Nebraska, converging just over the border. The river then flows through southern Nebraska into north-central Kansas and Milford Lake northwest of Junction City. Its basin covers almost 25,000 square miles.

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