Republican River: “This is not nearly as restrictive as some people fear” — Deb Daniel

Republican River Basin by District
Republican River Basin by District

From The Yuma Pioneer (Tony Rayl):

The Republican River Compact Administration signed off on a resolution presented by Colorado last week during the three-state entities’ annual meeting.

The resolution lays out the final steps Colorado has to take for compliance with the Final Settlement Stipulation and Republican River Compact, between it, Nebraska and Kansas.

If Colorado meets the requirements laid out in the resolution, it will be protected from any further lawsuit filings in the matter by Kansas or Nebraska.

“It basically means Kansas can’t come after us again and again,” Colorado State Engineer Dick Wolfe said. “It doesn’t prevent them from raising some other issue we haven’t thought of yet.”

He added the states have agreed to try to work out future issues among themselves instead of immediately going to the costly and time-consuming non-binding arbitration process.

“This is not nearly as restrictive as some people fear,” Deb Daniel, general manager of the Republican River Water Conservation District, said of the resolution.

A final agreement on the use of Colorado’s compact compliance pipeline, as well as the voluntary retiring of more acreage along the South Fork of the Republican River, are the key components in the resolution. Colorado already has removed 23,838 acres from irrigation in the South Fork Republican River Basin, through voluntary retirement programs such as the federally-funded CREP.

The resolution, presented last week in Burlington by Wolfe, and signed by him and Kansas’ David Barfield and Nebraska’s Gordon W. Fassett, calls for Colorado to utilize voluntary programs to retire up to an additional 25,000 acres from irrigation in the South Fork Republican River basin.

The resolution states Colorado will retire at least 10,000 acres by 2022, and the remaining 15,000 acres by December 31, 2027. It also includes language allowing Colorado to submit to the other states for their approval a plan to reduce consumption within Colorado by other means if the state cannot or will not retire 25,000 acres by the 2027 deadline.

“It gave us and the users the most flexibility going into the future,” Wolfe said.

Daniel noted the agreement does not make any mention of stream flows or how much acre feet of water must be removed from consumptive use, only acreage.

Here’s the Coyote Gulch post with the announcement from Governor Hickenlooper’s office.

#Kansas, #Nebraska, #Colorado reach consensus on Republican River

Photo: The commissioners of the Republican River Compact Administration sign the long-term resolutions on August 24: (from left) Commissioner David Barfield, Chief Engineer, Kansas Department of Agriculture; Commissioner Dick Wolfe, State Engineer, Colorado Division of Water Resources; Commissioner Jeff Fassett, Director of Nebraska’s Department of Natural Resources, via Governor Hickenlooper's office.
Photo: The commissioners of the Republican River Compact Administration sign the long-term resolutions on August 24: (from left) Commissioner David Barfield, Chief Engineer, Kansas Department of Agriculture; Commissioner Dick Wolfe, State Engineer, Colorado Division of Water Resources; Commissioner Jeff Fassett, Director of Nebraska’s Department of Natural Resources, via Governor Hickenlooper’s office.

Here’s the release from Governor Hickenlooper’s office:

Gov. John Hickenlooper today announced Colorado, Kansas and Nebraska established an agreement this week in the longstanding conflict over water from the Republican River basin, as the Republican River Compact Administration signed two resolutions.

Representatives from the three states have been meeting monthly for over two years, in an effort to change the approach and improve how they manage interstate water matters. This effort has created a new focus on transparency and certainty as all three states work to serve their water users. The intent of these resolutions is to replace the need for annual reviews and instead provide long-term surety to water users.

“We are proud to be part of this historic agreement,” said Hickenlooper. “For the first time since signing the Compact, the three states have worked together to resolve their issues without litigation and have brought certainty to the water users in the basin. This is how we do our best work in Colorado and defines our approach to addressing our water challenges — cooperation and collaboration.”

“Signing these resolutions shows the commitment from all three states to engage in open and transparent dialogue for the past two years,” said Kansas Governor Sam Brownback. “This long-term agreement will ultimately improve water management for water users in Kansas as well as Nebraska and Colorado.”

The resolutions signed this week will provide flexibility and greater certainty to all water users in the region, while remaining consistent with the terms of the Republican River Compact and the Final Settlement Stipulation of 2002. The three states have been involved in various litigation and arbitration for the past 15 years over administration of water in the Republican River basin, and this agreement is a significant and positive step forward, with the next steps focusing on working with the basin’s water users to implement these agreements.

“It has been a priority of the states to collaborate on interstate water matters to ensure each state’s water users are protected while also maintaining a positive working relationship between the compacting states. “These resolutions represent a long-term strategy for representing each state and ultimately improving water management for water users in all three states,” said Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts.

The Republican River basin begins in the plains of eastern Colorado and flows through northwest Kansas and southern Nebraska, ultimately returning to Kansas. The Republican River Compact was negotiated during the early 1940s with participation by the states of Colorado, Kansas and Nebraska and a representative of the President of the United States. The Compact was formally signed in 1942. Its purposes are to provide for equitable division of such waters, remove all causes of controversy, promote interstate comity, promote joint action by the states and the United States in the efficient use of water and the control of destructive floods, and provide for the most efficient use of waters in the Republican River basin.

The state official in each of the three states who is charged with administering water law serves on the Republican River Compact Administration. For more information about the Compact, go to the following websites:

Colorado: http://water.state.co.us/SurfaceWater/Compacts/RepublicanRiver/Pages/RepublicanRiverHome.aspx
Kansas: http://agriculture.ks.gov/divisions-programs/dwr/interstate-rivers-and-compacts/republican-river-compact
Nebraska: http://dnr.nebraska.gov/iwm/republican-river-compact-2

RRWCD joins Colorado NRCS in funding 2016 OAI

From the Republican River Water Conservation District (Deb Daniel):

The Republican River Water Conservation District (RRWCD) acting through its Water Activity Enterprise will again partner with NRCS to encourage water conservation through the Ogallala Aquifer Initiative (OAI). The RRWCD will provide incentives to producers that voluntarily implement certain water conservation measures. Last year the RRWCD teamed up with NRCS on this program and provided $510,000 to convert approximately five hundred ten acres (510 acres) from irrigated to dryland agriculture or grassland.

This year the District has expanded their participation in the program and will also provide funding along with the NRCS incentives on short-term irrigation rotations, and certain water management improvements such as soil moisture monitoring systems, weather stations, and conversion from sprinkler irrigation to an underground drip irrigation system.

In addition to the NRCS incentives, the RRWCD will provide between six hundred ($600.00) and one thousand two hundred dollars ($1,200.00) depending on the location of the well. In addition to the permanent well retirement practice, the District will be providing incentives to eligible producers that enter into short –term (1 -3 years) rotations from irrigated cropland to dryland cropping practices. Priorities have been established to focus RRWCD funding in areas that provides the highest level of credit for Colorado in the Republican River Compact.

Recent research has suggested that high capacity wells can reduce water consumption by as much as twenty percent (20%) in some cases, with little or no effect on the overall profitability of that particular well. To supplement NRCS incentives the RRWCD has earmarked fifty thousand dollars ($50,000.00) to producers who wish to continue to irrigate, but agree to reduce pumping by at least ten percent (10%) using water conservation measures such as weather stations, soil moisture monitoring and conversion from sprinkler irrigation to an underground drip system. More efficient irrigation systems can contribute substantially to prolonging the life of the aquifer, while maintaining a strong irrigated agricultural economy.

The RRWCD has consulted with groundwater management districts, the Water Preservation Partnership, and others to develop strategies to assist producers through financial incentives to voluntarily reduce water consumption. Several surveys distributed throughout the District to producers have indicated that voluntary, incentive based practices were preferred over regulatory water restrictions. The OAI provides yet another voluntary incentive based tool that all producers can use to help prolong the life of this aquifer. It is important that each and every irrigated agriculture producer evaluate their individual irrigation practices and determine if they can help reduce their impact on the aquifer by implementing one or more of these water conservation practices.

Republican River Basin
Republican River Basin

CSU-led team receives $10 million to study Ogallala Aquifer

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From Colorado State University (Jason Kosovski):

Main source of agricultural and public water

For more than 80 years, the Ogallala Aquifer, the largest freshwater aquifer in the world, has been the main source of agricultural and public water for eastern Colorado and parts of seven other states in the Great Plains. Now, Colorado State University will take a leading role as part of a USDA-NIFA funded university consortium to address agricultural sustainability on the Ogallala Aquifer.

$10 million over four years

The consortium, comprised of CSU and seven other universities as well as USDA-ARS, has been awarded a USDA Water for Agriculture Challenge Area CAP grant which will provide $10 million over four years for innovative research and extension activities to address water challenges in the Ogallala Aquifer region.

The Ogallala, along with many of the world’s aquifers, is declining on a path many consider to be unsustainable. The Ogallala Aquifer region currently accounts for 30 percent of total crop and animal production in the U.S and more than 90 percent of the water pumped from the Ogallala Aquifer is used for irrigated agriculture.

Cutting-edge science and technology

“This project will integrate cutting-edge science and technology with an evaluation of policy and economic strategies as well as outreach to foster adaptive management,” said Meagan Schipanski, assistant professor of Soil and Crop Sciences, and the project’s lead investigator. “Our interdisciplinary team has an exceptional track record of work in the region, and this project offers an opportunity for much-needed integration and collaboration to extend the life of our shared groundwater resources.”

Meagan Schipanski, assistant professor of Soil and Crop Sciences
Meagan Schipanski, assistant professor of Soil and Crop Sciences

Tremendous impact on rural economies

“Irrigated crop production has a tremendous impact on rural economies and Colorado’s overall agricultural output,” said Ajay Menon, dean of the CSU College of Agricultural Sciences. “Professor Schipanski brings her leadership along with the collective expertise of the CSU scientists to a team of Land Grant University researchers who are positioned to make a major impact on our understanding of the aquifer system by determining what approaches can improve the productivity and resiliency of this important region.”

The multi-disciplinary team includes scientists at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Kansas State University, Oklahoma State University, New Mexico State University, Texas Tech University, West Texas A &M University, Texas A & M AgriLife and the USDA-Agricultural Research Service.

To learn more about the project, visit the USDA news site.

Republican River Basin Study Informs #Colorado, #Kansas and #Nebraska about Future Water Management

Republican River Basin by District
Republican River Basin by District

Here’s the release from the US Bureau of Reclamation (Peter Soeth):

The Bureau of Reclamation has released the Republican River Basin Study, which identifies adaptation strategies that address water management challenges in the basin. This study, which includes a study area of 2.7 million acres of irrigated agriculture served primarily by groundwater supplies, represents an extensive collaborative effort among Colorado, Nebraska and Kansas.

“The Republican River Basin is a complex and important basin for these states,” Reclamation Commissioner Estevan López said. “Because of its importance, new ground and surface water modeling tools were developed to evaluate future hydrology and operations within the basin. These tools will assist water managers as they make decisions to build resiliency against future climate change, while also maintaining compliance with the Republican River Compact.”

The Republican River basin covers approximately 16 million acres and lies primarily within the Ogallala Aquifer. It originates in the high plains of eastern Colorado and flows east into Nebraska and Kansas.

The basin study found that climate change may impact future supplies and demands across the basin. Nebraska focused on augmenting the supply of Swanson Lake and creating new surface water storage on Thompson Creek, a tributary of the Republican River, while Kansas evaluated alternatives that increase the storage volume at Lovewell Reservoir. The modeling tools that were developed for the study evaluated alternatives to improve the supply reliability at the Frenchman-Cambridge Irrigation District in Nebraska, as well as the Bostwick-Irrigation District of Nebraska and Kansas.

Surface water supplies include a system of seven Reclamation reservoirs and one U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reservoir. These projects provide flood control benefits, as well as supplies to six irrigation districts that serve approximately 140,000 acres. The Republican River is subject to an interstate compact between Colorado, Nebraska and Kansas that was ratified in 1943.

The Republican River Basin Study is a part of Reclamation’s WaterSMART Program. The report is available online at http://www.usbr.gov/watersmart/bsp.

WaterSMART is the Department of the Interior’s sustainable water initiative that uses the best available science to improve water conservation and help water resource managers identify strategies to narrow the gap between supply and demand. For more information on the WaterSMART program, visit http://www.usbr.gov/WaterSMART.

Tribes hold wild card in high-stakes supply game — E&E Publishing

Many Indian reservations are located in or near contentious river basins where demand for water outstrips supply. Map courtesy of the Bureau of Reclamation.
Many Indian reservations are located in or near contentious river basins where demand for water outstrips supply. Map courtesy of the Bureau of Reclamation.

Here’s a report from Nnie Snider writing for E&E Publishing. Click through and read the whole article, here’s an excerpt:

It’s not just modern engineering that made Arizona’s desert bloom.

Thirty miles south of downtown Phoenix sits dusty land that was once farmed by one of the most advanced agricultural civilizations of prehistoric times. As far back as 300 B.C., the Hohokam people hand-dug a network of canals through the Gila River’s rich floodplains, diverting spring runoff to nourish their fields.

But by the end of the 19th century, their descendants’ fields were parched and dead, thanks to upstream diversions by white settlers.

“That era among our people is called the time of starvation,” said Gov. Stephen Roe Lewis, the top elected official at the Gila River Indian Community, home of the Hohokam’s descendants, the Pima, and the Maricopa tribe.

“Not only had our crops dried up because of lack of water, we were known as ranchers and a lot of our animals died because of lack of water,” he said. “We were really on the brink of extinction.”

Over the next century, the federal government put its financial and engineering might to work developing water projects around the reservation to benefit surrounding communities, but rarely the tribes.

Their fields dry, the Pima and Maricopa shifted from their traditional diet to a Western one, and the community’s diabetes rate skyrocketed to one of the highest in the country.

Traditional ways — weaving baskets of marsh grasses, using herbal medicines made from river sediment — were lost, too.

The painful irony: The tribes were technically the first in line for water.

Thanks to a 1908 Supreme Court ruling, tribes almost always have the most senior claim to water in the West, where water rights are prioritized based on when the resource was first put to beneficial use and reservations dot the landscape.

Rights mean little without a lawyer to defend them, though, and for generations, tribes were too poor to afford representation.

But in recent years, in part because of groundwork laid by the Native American civil rights movement, tribes are increasingly heading to court to assert their rights.

There’s a problem: While the high court was clear that tribes have rights to water, it did not say to how much.

In many cases, tribes claim a share large enough that it could crowd out neighboring cities’ and farmers’ water supplies and stanch future development.

Tribes along the main stem of the Colorado River in the Lower Basin have some of the few court-determined rights because of a 1963 Supreme Court decision covering larger battles over the river between California and Arizona. Today, just those few tribes have rights to roughly 20 percent of the Lower Basin’s flow — an amount that is more than five times the allocation for the entire state of Nevada…

Now, as booming populations and extended droughts have stoked competition for water supplies across the West, the uncertainty around tribes’ potentially massive claims to water in already overstretched river basins is posing real constraints on communities and businesses.

“It’s a very significant set of claims that tribes have on very limited and critical water supplies across the West,” said Deputy Interior Secretary Mike Connor, who has worked on tribal water issues throughout his career. “It’s uncertainty — that’s what water managers don’t want.”

But lawsuits have largely proved fruitless for all sides.

When tribes win, they receive only a legal right to the water — dubbed a “paper water right” — often without the infrastructure or funding needed to get the water to the reservation and put it to use.

Meanwhile, endless appeals offer certainty for no one.

Instead, many tribes and communities have opted to sit down at the negotiating table in an effort to hash out an agreement that can get the tribes what they most need — wet water and sometimes other support for economic development — while protecting nontribal users and absolving the federal government of liability for failing to protect tribes’ rights.

Moreover, with all parties at the table, settlements are increasingly providing an opportunity to take a holistic look at issues across the basin and address other sticky issues like endangered species management or land ownership.

“I think generally we kind of look at these things as an opportunity to figure out how water in a particular basin’s going to be used in the future because in these negotiations, everything’s on the table, everybody’s involved,” Echohawk said.

“The question is, how do we get that peace in the valley? How do we learn to live together in a sustainable basin?” he said. “It comes down to a master plan for water in a particular basin for time in eternity.”

But settlements tend to rely on an infusion of federal cash to help make the pie larger for everyone, and that funding is getting harder to fight for in Congress…

Complex legal landscape

Two legal concepts drive conversations about tribal water rights.

The first, known as the Winters doctrine, stems from a 1908 Supreme Court case, Winters v. United States, relating to water rights at the Fort Belknap American Indian Reservation in central Montana.

It holds that when Congress set aside land for an Indian reservation, it also intended to reserve the water necessary to make that land a permanent homeland. The same doctrine has also been applied to other federal reservations, like national parks.

But how much water does a homeland need?

Courts have generally looked to the purpose that Congress identified in establishing the reservation, which was often agricultural, even for tribes with no history of farming.

So to come up with a water right, experts would calculate how much reservation land could be farmed and how much water it would take to irrigate it — a complicated, time-consuming process that can result in a large amount of water for the tribe.

The second key legal concept relates to the federal government’s responsibility to tribes.

In a “trust responsibility,” the government, through the Interior Department, has a legal obligation to protect tribal treaty rights, land and other assets, and carry out federal laws relating to tribes.

Court rulings have made it clear that trust obligation includes protecting tribes’ water rights in the face of outside development — something the government frequently failed to do.

Meanwhile, some experts contend that the lack of infrastructure development for tribes is also a breach of that trust responsibility.

On the Navajo Nation, the country’s largest, poorest reservation, which spans a broad swath of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah, an estimated 40 percent of households lack access to running water.

There, families must travel dozens of miles to haul water from centralized wells or wait for the once-a-month delivery from a local church. Without water, economic development is nearly impossible.

But exactly what that federal liability means in dollars and cents is another major open question.

One of the highest-profile cases over breach of trust was a long-running class-action lawsuit relating to the Interior Department’s mismanagement of income from tribal trust lands. That case, Cobell v. Salazar, settled in 2009 for a whopping $3.4 billion.

But for water rights, there’s no solid precedent.

In part, that’s because neither side has wanted to take the risk to get a definitive answer.

For one thing, due to a 1952 appropriations rider, federal water rights like tribes’ can be adjudicated in state courts, which tribes tend to see as hostile to their interests.

Meanwhile, the country’s highest court is also seen as becoming less favorable to tribes.

The last major Indian water rights case to land before the Supreme Court was an appeal of a Wyoming state court’s decision that granted the Wind River Indian Reservation a large water right.

Then-Justice Sandra Day O’Connor recused herself from the case at the last moment, having discovered that her family’s ranch was part of a water adjudication that involved tribal water rights.

Without her, the high court reached a split, 4-4 decision that left the state court’s ruling in place.

But when Justice Thurgood Marshall’s papers were made public after his death, lawyers found a “ghost opinion” from O’Connor that would have overturned the Wyoming ruling and significantly revised the Winters doctrine.

All that leaves tribes gun-shy about a return trip to the high court.

“Tribes don’t want to be litigating these and going to the Supreme Court because they came within a whisper of losing it all in ’89, and in my view the Supreme Court has become a lot more hostile to tribal interests than the court we had at that time,” said Stanley Pollack, assistant attorney general for the Navajo Nation and a leading expert on tribal water rights.

Study finds High Plains Aquifer [Ogallala] peak use by state, overall usage decline

The High Plains Aquifer provides 30 percent of the water used in the nation's irrigated agriculture. The aquifer runs under South Dakota, Wyoming, Nebraska, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Texas.
The High Plains Aquifer provides 30 percent of the water used in the nation’s irrigated agriculture. The aquifer runs under South Dakota, Wyoming, Nebraska, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Texas.

Here’s the release from Kansas State University (Greg Tammen):

A new Kansas State University study finds that the over-tapping of the High Plains Aquifer’s groundwater beyond the aquifer’s recharge rate peaked in 2006. Its use is projected to decrease by roughly 50 percent in the next 100 years.

David Steward, professor of civil engineering, and Andrew Allen, civil engineering doctoral student, Manhattan, published those findings in the recent Agricultural Water Management study “Peak groundwater depletion in the High Plains Aquifer, projects from 1930 to 2110.” It is the first paper to look at and quantify peak aquifer depletion.

Researchers looked at the historic and projected future groundwater use rates of the eight states comprising the High Plains Aquifer. The aquifer runs under South Dakota, Wyoming, Nebraska, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Texas — eight agriculturally important states. It provides 30 percent of the irrigated water for the nation’s agriculture and is pivotal in food production.

This latest study builds on the 2013 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences study in which Steward and colleagues forecasted the future of the Ogallala Aquifer in Kansas. Researchers expanded their projections to include wells in Kansas that were both depleted and steady in their historic groundwater levels as well as the eight states that rely on the High Plains Aquifer. A total of 3,200 Kansas wells and 11,000 wells from the other seven states were studied to understand their water depletion processes.

Allen wrote the computer code necessary to analyze massive amounts of geographic information systems data about the more than 14,000 wells using the aquifer. A logistic equation was developed to apply more than 300,000 well measurements to create a historical record of its water level and also its projected water level through 2110.

“When we did the Kansas study, it really focused on those wells in Kansas that were depleting,” Steward said. “We came up with a set of projections that looked at how long the water would last and how the depletion process would play out over time. With this study, we wanted to learn how the depletion in various locations plays into a larger picture of the aquifer.”

Steward and Allen found that the High Plains Aquifer’s depletion followed a south to north progression, with its depletion peaking in 2006 for the entire High Plains Aquifer. Overall, researchers saw that some portions of the aquifer are depleting while others are not. Texas peaked in 1999, New Mexico in 2002, Kansas in 2010, Oklahoma in 2012 and Colorado is projected to peak in 2023. Nebraska, South Dakota and Wyoming are not projected to reach peaks before 2110.

“We are on a declining trend right now for water use in irrigated agriculture,” Steward said. “As we project what happens in the future following the existing water use patterns, the amount of depletion and the amount of water that comes out of the aquifer will decrease by about half over the next 100 years.”

Additionally, researchers saw that the water depletion rates for each state in the High Plains Aquifer follow a similar bell-shaped curve pattern as the one for oil depletion in the U.S. modeled by the Hubbert peak theory.

Pump photo via Kansas State University
Pump photo via Kansas State University

While water is a finite resource, Steward said the intent behind the study is not raise alarm, but rather encourage proactivity to manage and preserve this resource.

“This study helps add to the dialogue of how is it that we manage water and the effects of the choices that we make today,” Steward said. “It has the same kind of message of our previous paper, which is that our future is not set; it’s not cast. The projections we show are projections based on the data we have available that show the trends based on how we used water. People have the opportunities to make choices about the way that things are done, and the findings from this study help add to the dialogue.”

The National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Agriculture funded the study. The U.S. Geological Survey and the Kansas Geological Survey contributed decades of information about the High Plains Aquifer and the Ogallala Aquifer for analysis.