The RRWCD, which operates the pipeline for the state’s compliance efforts with the 1942 compact, sent approximately 7,000 acre feet into the North Fork of the Republican River in 2014.
That was part of an initial one-year agreement between Colorado and Kansas to operate the pipeline on a trial basis. The two states, along with Nebraska (the three comprise the Republican River Compact Administration), agreed to operate the pipeline again this year on another one-year agreement.
Nebraska also has two augmentation projects to meet its compact obligations. Read more about them in the accompanying article.
RRWCD completed the 2014 delivery through the pipeline over the last two months of 2014, and continued pumping another 4,000 acre feet by March 31 to begin meeting this year’s obligation.
However, the pipeline, located at the far east end of Yuma County, continues to pump water into the North Fork.
A total of 7,000 AF currently is being sent into the North Fork of the Republican River. RRWCD General Manager Deb Daniel told the Pioneer earlier this week the pipeline should meet the 7,000-AF benchmark by the end of this week. It then will be shut down until October 1, at which time pumping will resume with a target of an additional 6,000 AF delivered by the end of 2015.
Slattery has calculated Colorado is going to have to come close to pumping the full 13,000 acre feet allowed from the eight wells currently in use for the pipeline.
That is nearly double what Colorado sent into the North Fork in 2014.
Board members voiced concerns to Slattery that Colorado already is nearing its maximum pumping capacity in only the second year of the pipeline’s operation.
Ironically, it is because much of Colorado’s Republican River Basin received a welcome-amount of precipitation last summer.
Board member Brent Deterding said people are in awe so much more will be pumped this year after having more rain last year. Felloq board member Tim Pautler told Slattery last week the board needs to be equipped with an understanable explanation the members can share with the public.
Slattery explained a wet year hurts Colorado when the water does not reach the downstream gauges for the South Fork in Benkelman, Nebraska.
A wet year helps when there is so much rain that water reaches the gauges, which gives Colorado credit in compact compliance.
That was not the case in 2014. The region received healthy rain, but none of it reached the gauges, meaning Colorado did not share the extra water with its downstream partners, Slattery explained.
One of the key issues when Kansas first brought suit against Nebraska, and then Colorado, in the late 1990s and early 2000s for not meeting compact compliance, was the role played by high-capacity wells mining the underground Ogallala Aquifer.
A Supreme Court special master sided with Kansas in the early 2000s that the increased pumping since expansion of irrigation farming had impacted stream flows.
That ruling put all high-capacity wells in Colorado’s Republican River Basin in danger of being shutdown. The RRWCD was formed by state legislation in 2004, charged with finding ways to get Colorado into compliance without the forced shutdown of wells.
It eventually led to the construction of the compact compliance pipeline, which sat unused for a couple of years until Kansas finally agreed to the first one-year trail for 2014.
And so, back to the wet year resulting in Colorado having to pump more into the North Fork — the heavier rains meant more water in Colorado that was not shared downstream, the concept being it did not make it there because underground pumping has depleted the aquifer enough that the water soaks into the ground instead of making it downstream.
Therefore, Colorado has a bigger deficit to make up.
While 13,000 AF certainly is much more than Colorado expected it would have to be pumping so early in the pipeline’s use, wells within the Colorado Republican River Basin annually pump 700,000 AF out of the aquifer. Slattery noted it does not come free, as Colorado has to repay 13,000 AF — which equals 1.85 percent of the 700,000 AF pumped annually.
Slattery also warned the board that eventually Colorado is going to have to deliver up to 25,000 AF annually through the pipeline. There are eight wells being used now, and eventually seven more will have to come online. Slattery said the district will need to keep buying water rights for the pipeline.
Board members softened their remarks to Slattery by the end of the presentation.
“It just makes us nervous when we’re within 1,000 acre feet of the maximum in the second year,” Board President Dennis Coryell said.
“Basically, you’re just telling us what we don’t want to know,” Deterding added.