Republican River Compact Adjustments to Benefit Basin Water Users
(Lincoln, Neb.) Today, the states of Colorado, Kansas and Nebraska have reached an agreement that will ensure more certainty to the basin’s water users in both Nebraska and Kansas. The agreement, in the form of a Resolution approved by the Republican River Compact Administration (RRCA), was achieved through collaborative negotiations that began in April 2015 and will provide timely notice and access to water for the 2016 irrigation season.
The agreement provides additional flexibility for Nebraska to achieve its Compact obligations while ensuring that the interests of Kansas are protected. The additional flexibility will allow the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources to provide a portion of the forecasted compliance water early in 2016 and provide any additional shortfall later in 2016 and through April 1, 2017. This also provides some improved operational predictability for Nebraska water users in that water users will not be subjected to closing notices related to the 2016 irrigation season.
The 2016 agreement builds upon the agreement reached for the 2015 irrigation season with further beneficial developments for water users. This agreement provides more advanced notice to irrigators in the basin of compliance activities that will likely occur in 2016, allowing for an advanced planning period producers desire for their efficiently run operations.
The States’ agreement is contingent upon the Nebraska and the Kansas Bostwick Irrigation Districts, working with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, – reaching agreement on modifications of certain contract provisions contained in their Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) also adopted last year. Thus, ensuring the availability of the water pumped from Nebraska augmentation projects for RRCA compliance.
Current RRCA Chairman, Gordon W. “Jeff” Fassett, Director of the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources, said, “Today’s agreement is good news for Nebraska water users and represents the continuation of the cooperative and positive collaboration we’ve fostered between our states as we work to find mutually agreeable solutions that best serve our citizens. Additionally, we are hopeful that this positive momentum will continue to move us closer to the goal of securing a long-term agreement. With significantly more planning time, Nebraska’s water users will have greater certainty in their water supply and make the best decisions for their operations.”
“We are pleased to collaborate with Nebraska and Colorado as we continue to develop balanced and fair water solutions benefiting all of the basin’s water users that reflects good water management,” said Kansas Commissioner David Barfield. “This fourth in our series of recent agreements with Nebraska allows Kansas to make effective use of its water supply in 2016 and allows the states additional time and experience with Nebraska’s compliance activities as we continue to move toward long-term agreement.”
Colorado Commissioner Dick Wolfe said, “This agreement exemplifies the success that can be achieved through collaboration and cooperation of the RRCA and the water users in the basin.”
The RRCA is comprised of one member each from the States of Colorado, Kansas and Nebraska. The purpose of the RRCA is to administer the Republican River Compact. This Compact allocates the waters of the Republican River among the three states. The next RRCA annual meeting is scheduled for August of 2016 and will be hosted by the State of Colorado in a location of their choice.
…But irrigation soon could end on [Brant] Peterson’s southwest Kansas farm. The wells under his land in Stanton County are fast running dry as farmers and ranchers across the Great Plains pump the Ogallala faster than it can be replenished naturally.
Three of his wells are already dry.
Within five years, Peterson estimates, he likely won’t be able to irrigate at all.
Wet and dry: A country divided
While the east half of the country generally receives at least 25 inches of rain a year, much of the west is dryer.
This means much of our country’s corn and hogs are farmed west of the 100th meridian. Meanwhile, in the Great Plains, milo, or grain sorghum, has become a popular crop due to its reduced need for water, and cattle farming has long been popular out west…
Western Kansas’ only significant water source is the Ogallala…
The vast freshwater reservoir beneath the prairie formed 5 million to 10 million years ago as streams draining from the Rocky Mountains deposited water in the clay, sand and gravel beneath the Great Plains.
The water lay there undisturbed for epochs until enterprising homesteaders who settled the West discovered the liquid bonanza that would make their arid land bloom.
Now, in a geological blink of an eye, the Ogallala, which made the Great Plains the nation’s breadbasket, is in peril…
The disappearing water supply poses a twofold danger. It could end a way of life in a region where the land and its bounty have been purchased by the toil and sweat of generations of farmers.
It also threatens a harvest worth $21 billion a year to Kansas alone and portends a fast-approaching, and largely unstoppable, water crisis across the parched American West.
With water levels already too low to pump in some places, western Kansas farmers have been forced to acknowledge that the end is near. That harsh reality is testing the patience and imagination of those who rely on the land for their livelihoods.
As they look for survival, farmers are using cutting-edge technologies to make the most efficient use of the water they have left. They’re contemplating something almost unimaginable just a generation ago: voluntary pacts with their neighbors to reduce irrigation.
And many are investing their long-term hopes in an astronomically expensive water transportation project that isn’t likely ever to be built.
The Arkansas River, which once flowed out of Colorado into western Kansas, is nothing but a dry ditch now, its riverbed reduced to a rugged obstacle course for all-terrain vehicles.
And average rainfall here is just 14 to 16 inches a year, nowhere near enough to replace the water that farmers draw from the Ogallala.
Kansas enjoyed a rainier-than-normal spring this year, easing several years of drought conditions throughout the state. But the relief is temporary.
The storms that soaked the state in recent months won’t alter the Ogallala’s fate, experts say…
Once emptied, it would take 6,000 years to refill the Ogallala naturally…
The Ogallala Aquifer supplies water for 20 percent of the corn, wheat, sorghum and cattle produced in the U.S.
It sprawls 174,000 square miles across eight states, from South Dakota to Texas, and can hold more than enough water to fill Lake Huron and part of Lake Ontario.
But for every square mile of aquifer, there’s a well. About 170,000 of them. Ninety percent of the water pumped out is used to irrigate crops…
Over the years, there have been multiple attempts to address the rapid decline of the aquifer. Water rights holders in much of western Kansas had to install flow meters in all their wells starting in the mid-1990s. Soon all wells in Kansas will have to be metered. And the state government has stopped issuing new permits to pump water from the Ogallala in areas of western Kansas where water levels have dropped the most.
Now, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback has pledged to make water policy a central pillar of his administration. The final draft of his 50-year “water vision” for the state, released in January, outlines an incentive and education-based approach focused on encouraging voluntary, coordinated conservation efforts by the farmers who have the most to lose by the aquifer’s decline.
So far, however, farmers have agreed to limit water use in just part of two northwestern counties. A group of farmers in Sheridan and Thomas counties established a Local Enhanced Management Area, or LEMA, in 2012 to cut water use by 20 percent over five years.
It seems to be working: In the first year, participants in the LEMA used about 2.5 inches less water for irrigation than their neighbors and produced just two bushels less per acre, on average.
A proposal to create another LEMA in west-central Kansas was voted down last year by water rights holders.
“The problem is everybody wants to be democratic, and you have people for and you have some people against,” said Bill Golden, an agricultural economist at Kansas State.
It isn’t easy to convince individuals to put their profits at risk to preserve a common resource, especially when some farmers have more water left than others, Golden said.
“But I think that we will probably see more LEMAs in the coming years,” he said. “That is the most acceptable answer. I mean, we’re going to run out of water. Nobody’s talking about saving the aquifer and not using the water. The question is, can we extend the life of the aquifer and make it a soft landing?”
For now, that leaves individual farmers making their own decisions about how best to manage water on their land.
Ten miles east of Peterson’s farm, in Grant County, Kan., Clay Scott parked his Dodge pickup on a country road and reached for his iPad.
A few hundred feet away, a solar panel planted in a field of wheat powered a probe that measures soil moisture at different depths.
Right now the probe told Scott’s iPad that he could hold off on watering the field. His sprinklers lay idle.
“People think that we waste our water out here,” Scott said, “and we just kind of grin because we work so hard to use that water.”
In addition to the soil moisture probes linked to his iPad, Scott consults satellites and radar data to track every shift in the weather and drop of rain that falls in his fields so he can minimize irrigation. He uses low-till techniques to preserve the soil and experiments with genetically engineered drought-resistant corn. He installed more efficient nozzles on his center-pivot sprinklers.
And he’s trying out a new device called a “dragon line,” which drags perforated hoses behind a center pivot to deposit water directly on the ground, reducing pooling and evaporation.
Scott’s version of high-tech farming would be unrecognizable to his great-grandfather, who homesteaded in nearby Stanton County around the turn of the century.
Still, despite all his efforts, Scott knows there will come a day – sooner rather than later if nothing is done – when irrigation is no longer viable in this part of Kansas.
The effects of the depleted aquifer already can be felt on Scott’s farm, where he’s had to reduce irrigation by 25 percent.
Some of his two dozen wells are pumping just 150 gallons per minute now, down from thousands of gallons per minute when they were first drilled. And as the water table drops, the energy costs of pumping from deeper underground have become higher than the cash rents Scott pays on the fields he leases.
“We’ve gone through periods where we re-drilled and tapped all but the very lowest water,” Scott said. “There are places we don’t pump the wells anymore.”
As an elected board member for the local Groundwater Management District, Scott hopes that he’ll be able to shape conservation policies that will enable his children to continue farming after him. He sees the situation in California, where the state has forced farmers to cut water use, as a cautionary tale. If farmers in Kansas don’t find ways to conserve enough water on their own, the state could enforce water rationing.
“I’ve got three boys, and a couple of them have already talked very seriously about coming back to the farm, and I’d like them to have the opportunity and ability that I’ve had to grow crops and livestock, even in a drought,” he said.
Scott’s long-term hopes rest in the construction of an $18 billion aqueduct that would import high flows off the Missouri River to water crops grown in western Kansas.
As conceived by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the concrete ditch would stretch 360 miles from east to west across Kansas with 16 lift stations and massive reservoirs on either end. The proposal was met with opposition – and not a little ridicule – by the legislature in Topeka, as state lawmakers struggled to close a $400 million budget hole.
“We’re not working on it at this point,” Earl Lewis, assistant director of the Kansas Water Office, said in an interview.
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon dismissed the aqueduct as a “harebrained” scheme that would divert river water needed for barge traffic and municipal use.
But in western Kansas, it doesn’t seem like such a crazy idea.
“When they’re flooding in the Missouri River and cities are sandbagging, it sure seems to us like we have an answer to their problems,” Scott said. “Nobody wants to build a house and see it flooded; nobody wants to plant a field and watch it wither.”
Fervent support for the project speaks to the urgency felt by Scott, Peterson and other farmers and ranchers whose livelihoods and communities depend on irrigation. They’re hoping to convince the federal government to kick in funds for the aqueduct. And they’re looking into the possibility of building it through a public-private partnership, like a toll road. Farming cooperatives in California and Colorado have expressed interest in the project, they say, and want to explore extending it farther west.
A federal engineering bailout for western Kansas isn’t very likely, however.
Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts, the Republican chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said in an interview that such a costly project would be a nonstarter under Congress’ current budget caps.
“In all honestly, it’s a front-burner issue for folks in southwest Kansas, but to build that kind of aqueduct would be billions of dollars, and I just don’t think that’s feasible at this point,” Roberts said.
Barring the construction of an aqueduct, rural communities that depend on the Ogallala face a bleak future.
The state would have to cut its irrigated acres in half today to get anywhere close to sustainability, said Golden, the agricultural economist from Kansas State.
But it isn’t as simple as turning off the sprinklers.
“People survived out here on dryland farming. I can do it,” Peterson said, using the term “dryland” to refer to growing crops without irrigation. “Here’s the cost: My community is going to wither away.”
An irrigated field in southwest Kansas produces more than eight times more corn per acre on average than a field that isn’t irrigated, according to the Kansas Department of Agriculture. Land values would drop. The loss of equity and tax base would mean fewer farmers and bigger farms, consolidated school districts, and impoverished towns with declining populations.
Like any economy dependent on mining a finite resource, this one is headed for a bust, and the farmers know it.
“We can’t wait another 30 years to get our policy right,” Scott said. “The drought in California is showing what living in denial can do.”
Keith Gido, professor in the Division of Biology; Josh Perkin, 2012 Kansas State University doctoral graduate; and several co-authors have published “Fragmentation and dewatering transform Great Plains stream fish communities” in the journal Ecological Monographs.
The article documents a reduction in water flow in Great Plains streams and rivers because of drought, damming and groundwater withdrawals. This is causing a decrease in aquatic diversity in Kansas from stream fragmentation — or stretches of disconnected streams.
“Fish are an indication of the health of the environment,” Gido said. “A while back there was a sewage leak in the Arkansas River and it was the dead fish that helped identify the problem. Children play and swim in that water, so it’s important that we have a good understanding of water quality.”
Several species of fish — including the peppered chub and the plains minnow — were found to be severely declining in the Great Plains during the ecologists’ field research, which compared historic records to 110 sampling sites in Kansas between 2011-2013. Both fish species swim downstream during droughts and return during normal water flow, but the construction of dams, or stream fragmentation, prevents fish from returning upstream.
“The Great Plains region is a harsh environment and drought has always been a problem. Historically, fish were able to recover from drought by moving,” Gido said. “They could swim downstream and when the drought was over, they could swim back. Now, there are dams on the rivers and the fish are not able to recover.”
Streams in the Great Plains region have more than 19,000 human-made barriers. Gido estimates that on average, stretches of streams in the Great Plains are about six miles long. In surveying Kansas’ streams and rivers, the researchers discovered numerous small dams that do not allow enough habitat for the fish to complete their reproductive cycles. Moreover, the fish are unable to migrate in search of suitable habitat.
“Groundwater extraction exasperates the drought, and the damming of the rivers inhibits the fish from being able to recover from those conditions,” Gido said. “This is unfortunate, but there are some things we can do to help.”
Gido suggested a renewed focus to conserve water, reduce dams and make fish passageways like the one on the Arkansas River under Lincoln Street in Wichita. During the planning for the reconstruction of the Lincoln Street Bridge and the dam over the river, the city worked with wildlife agencies to build a passage that would allow fish as well as canoes and kayaks to navigate through the structure.
Similar structures could be constructed on the Kansas River to help fish migrate.
“The plains minnow is still found in the Missouri River and could recolonize the Kansas River — where they used to be the most abundance species — if there was a fish passage through some of the dams.”
The Republican River Water Conservation District Board of Directors will hold its regular quarterly meeting Thursday, July 9, at the Haxtun Community Center, 125 E. Wilson St.
Among the items on the agenda is approving the purchase of surface water rights with Bonny Company Trust. The board also is supposed to receive a report from Mike Sullivan and Scott Steinbrecher from the State of Colorado concerning negotiations with Kansas regarding the Compact Compliance Pipeline and Bonny arbitrations. Some portion of that report might take place in executive session due to possible negotiation and litigation strategy considerations.
District engineer Jim Slattery will make a presentation regarding the pipeline operations in 2015, and a pipeline update will be given.
The 2014 audit report is up for approval, and the board also is scheduled to approve an engagement letter for the 2015 audit.
The meeting is scheduled to run from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Public comment will be heard by the board beginning at 1 p.m.
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.
Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback and a few water-conscious underlings plan to discuss with locals Tuesday in St. Francis how water is being used in a three-state region.
Water from the Ogallala Aquifer, the huge underground driver of farm economies in portions of several states, is being mined to satisfy federal streamflow requirements on the Republican River.
Rep. Rick Billinger, R-Goodland, wonders about the wisdom of taking a resource that developed over centuries to enhance a river, losing some of the resource to seepage and evaporation.
“It makes no sense,” he said. “Here we are, trying to get a new vision out to preserve water for 50 years, and we have Colorado across the line, pumping from the Ogallala to replace surface water.”
The meeting will begin at 10:30 a.m. at the Cheyenne County 4-H Building in St. Francis.
Billinger aims to gather input on the pumping project and “possible ways to preserve the Ogallala for future users.”
Two similar augmentation projects just ceased in two areas of western Nebraska.
The Republican River Water Conservation District in northeast Colorado is pumping from eight irrigation wells into a pipeline that dumps into the north fork of the Republican. The district delivers 7,000 acre feet of water to the river from November through December, and from January through mid-April will pump another 7,000 acre-feet, said Deb Daniel, manager of the district based in Wray, Colo…
“The only way we can supply enough water to be in compact compliance is by delivering water to the stream,” she said.
Another effort to comply consisted of draining Bonny Reservoir northeast of Burlington during 2011 and 2012. It was the only lake in the region.
Evaporation and seepage from the lake were working against Colorado’s compliance, Daniel said…
Rep. Billinger argues that the pumping project benefits the north fork of the Republican, which doesn’t enter Kansas until it reaches Jewell County, in the north-central part of the state. The south fork dips into Kansas through Cheyenne County and flows back into Nebraska.
Among Billinger’s options is to influence Colorado to stop pumping water from the Ogallala to replace surface water.
Hoping for long-term solutions
The Kansas lawmaker also would advocate for Colorado putting water back in Bonny Reservoir, earmarking storage for Kansas, and enhancing the region’s fishing and other recreation opportunities.
Given the demands for compliance, Colorado’s Daniel said the district “didn’t have any choice.”[…]
Representatives from Daniel’s district are planning to attend the Tuesday meeting in St. Francis. NRD officials from Nebraska also are interested in what’s said at the meeting, Jenkins said, and some may attend.
Accompanying Brownback will be Kansas Agriculture Secretary Jackie McClaskey, Chief Water Engineer David Barfield and Kansas Water Office Director Tracy Streeter.
Meanwhile the Republican River Water Conservation District board meeting is next Thursday. From the Yuma Pioneer (Tony Rayl):
Yuma will be the site for the Republican River Water Conservation Board of Directors regular quarterly meeting, Thursday, April 9.
It will be held in the banquet room at Quintech, 529 N. Albany St. from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Public comment will be heard at 1 p.m.
A discussion regarding negotiations with the Jim Hutton Educational Foundation is on the agenda. The board will discuss possible financial support to the Water Preservation Partnership, as well as membership in the Colorado Foundation for Water Education, along with other matters.
Pipeline operator Tracy Travis will give a report, and the board will hear reports on other recent meetings and programs. The board holds out the right to have an executive session if necessary.
For further information, please contact RRWCD General Manager Deb Daniel at 332-3552, or on her cell phone at 630-3525, or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
More Republican River Basin coverage here and here.
From the Republican River Compact Administration via the McCook Gazette:
Today, reflecting the continued spirit of cooperation, Colorado, Kansas and Nebraska, along with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, have reached an agreement that will ensure more certainty to the basin’s water users in both Nebraska and Kansas. The agreement, signed through the Republican River Compact Administration (RRCA), was achieved through collaborative negotiations that began in January 2015 and will provide timely access to water for the 2015 irrigation season.
The agreement provides additional flexibility for Nebraska to achieve its Compact obligations while ensuring Kansas water users’ interests are also protected. The additional flexibility allowed the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources to open Nebraska reservoirs and water user’s rights that were initially limited in 2015. Opening the Nebraska water rights allowed the Bureau of Reclamation to agree to modify certain contract provisions for its irrigation districts, ensuring the availability of the water that was pumped from Nebraska augmentation projects for Compact compliance.
Additionally, the agreement allows for the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources to ensure no additional regulatory water supply reductions for Nebraska surface water irrigation user’s water supplies for the 2015 irrigation season.
Current RRCA Chairman Jim Schneider, Acting Director of the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources, said, “This is a significant step forward for the states and our water users. Our collaborative work and this agreement further demonstrate the benefits of the recent cooperation that the states have been able to achieve. I am optimistic that the states and Bureau of Reclamation can work toward ensuring these types of arrangements can be in place each year so that both Nebraska and Kansas water users will secure the benefits of having more certainty in their water supplies.”
Kansas Commissioner David Barfield said, “Today’s agreement continues to move us forward toward a longer-term solution benefiting the basin’s water users. I appreciate not only Nebraska’s continued willingness to work through these issues, but also the Bureau of Reclamation and its irrigation districts for their part in reaching today’s agreement.”
Colorado Commissioner Dick Wolfe said, “These recent agreements are emblematic of the new cooperation among the states and the federal government. I hope it continues to be a model for cooperation and successful settlement of the remaining issues within the basin.”
At the Nov. 19, 2014, meeting in Manhattan, Kansas, the states reached an agreement that provided Nebraska with 100% credit for water delivered from augmentation projects to Harlan County Lake prior to June 1, 2015, and dedicated that water to be used exclusively by Kansas irrigators.
The RRCA is comprised of one member each from the States of Colorado, Kansas and Nebraska. The purpose of the RRCA is to administer the Republican River Compact. This Compact allocates the waters of the Republican River among the three states. The next RRCA meeting is scheduled for August to be hosted in Lincoln, Nebraska.
Some surface water irrigators in Nebraska’s part of the Republican Basin will get more water for their 2015 crops than originally expected as a result of an agreement signed Friday through the Republican River Compact Administration…
A key part of the agreement allows water to be released from Nebraska reservoirs earlier than planned for irrigation, even if that means being out of compact compliance.
Acting Nebraska Department of Natural Resources Director Jim Schneider said Nebraska will be allowed to make up the difference in fall 2015 or spring 2016 with surface water administration and/or water from two natural resources district projects that pump groundwater into tributaries to enhance Republican River flows into Kansas.
Schneider said that before the agreement, Nebraska officials were being very conservative in water administration to ensure 2015 compact compliance, with water likely held in reservoirs until late summer.
Nebraska water rights for irrigation were opened in July 2014, which was too late for farmers to make crop plans based on having water. “It (2015) probably would have looked a lot like that,” Schneider said.
For the 22,455 acres of the Nebraska Bostwick Irrigation District downstream of Harlan County Lake, primarily in Franklin, Webster and Nuckolls counties, that meant a water supply equivalent to about 2.5 inches of water per acre.
District Manager Mike Delka of Red Cloud told the Hub that Friday’s agreement will increase that to 5 inches per acre.
Frenchman-Cambridge Irrigation District Manager Brad Edgerton said the main effect in his district will be downstream of Swanson Reservoir, where 20,000 acres from Trenton to the Indianola area along the Meeker-Driftwood Canal will get a boost from 1.5 inches per acre to 6 inches.
“This won’t be a full supply,” Schneider said, “but it will be the difference between being worth it to (irrigate) or not to take any water at all.”
For the irrigators, an earlier agreement would have been better. “The big advantage is knowing what you’re doing going into a crop year, so we would have liked to have known sooner,” Edgerton said.
Schneider said the incentive for Kansas officials to sign the agreement is that Kansas Bostwick Irrigation District irrigators have a certain 2015 water supply for 9 inches per acre.
Delka said Nebraska Bostwick and Frenchman-Cambridge officials started looking at options when it was clear 2015 would be another “compact call” year, with water to fill the irrigation districts’ needs being held in the reservoirs.
Delka said he, Edgerton and Kansas Bostwick Manager Kenny Nelson met with Bureau of Reclamation officials at a January meeting in Colorado.
“We said this is a third year of a compact call. This is just going to continue forever. We can’t afford that,” Delka said.
Work then began to identify how much water was needed to put Nebraska into compact compliance so the compact call could be lifted.
DNR officials had said an additional 19,000 a-f were needed for Kansas, Delka said, so irrigation district officials thought that had been achieved in a settlement giving Nebraska full credit for 20,000 a-f of Republican Basin water imported from the Platte Basin in 2014 and 2015.
He said DNR then kept increasing the amount required for state officials to agree to lift the compact call and release the water stored in the reservoirs. The other two key components for Friday’s agreement were approval by the Nebraska and Kansas Bostwick districts and by the Republican River Compact Commission.
Delka said the final agreement requires 31,700 a-f of water for Kansas before Nebraska Bostwick gets irrigation water. He said that’s the difference between 10 inches per acre and the 5 inches Nebraska Bostwick irrigators will get.
“We sacrificed, basically, half of our water supply for this,” Delka said. “The only way we could get water is to agree to this, which is wrong.”
Edgerton also said the agreement hinged on Nebraska Bostwick agreeing to those terms.
Delka said Nebraska Bostwick officials will issue a press release early next week explaining further why they don’t like the agreement, but approved it.
“This is one of the few times a public entity like us did something for the benefit of others,” he told the Hub.