Republican River Basin: Nebraska, Kansas and Colorado continue cooperation with water agreement — McCook Gazette

March 11, 2015
South Fork of the Republican River

South Fork of the Republican River

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.

More Republican River Basin coverage here.


Republican River agreement increases some water supplies for irrigation — the Scottsbluff Star-Herald

March 8, 2015

Republican River Basin by District

Republican River Basin by District


From the Scottsbluff Star-Herald (Lori Potter):

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.

More Republican River Basin coverage here.


Republican River Basin: Supreme Court finds Nebraska liable for ‘reckless’ water use — The Kansas City Kansan

February 25, 2015
Republican River Basin by District

Republican River Basin by District

From the Kansas City Kansan:

In a 28-page majority opinion, the court unanimous agreed that Nebraska “knowingly” violated the Republican River Compact and took water that belonged to Kansas.

As a remedy, the Supreme Court ordered by a 6-3 vote that Nebraska not only must pay Kansas’ actual damages from loss of water during those two dry years but also must “disgorge” a portion of the economic gain Nebraska received from higher yields from irrigating crops with water that should have been sent downstream to Kansas.

“Nebraska recklessly gambled with Kansas’s rights, consciously disregarding a substantial probability that its actions would deprive Kansas of the water to which it was entitled,” Justice Elena Kagan wrote for the court’s majority. “That is nearly a recipe for breach [of the Compact that governs sharing of Republican River water]—for an upstream State to refuse to deliver to its downstream neighbor the water to which the latter is entitled. And through 2006, Nebraska took full advantage of its favorable position, eschewing steps that would effectively control groundwater pumping and thus exceeding its allotment. In such circumstances, a disgorgement award appropriately reminds Nebraska of its legal obligations, deters future violations, and promotes the Compact’s successful administration.

”Schmidt noted that the Supreme Court never before had ordered disgorgement of an upstream state’s unjust gains as a remedy in an interstate water dispute.

“Legally, this is a groundbreaking case that vindicates Kansas’s rights as a downstream state,” Schmidt said. “We brought this lawsuit to encourage our neighbors to live up to their obligations in future dry periods. I’m hopeful this strong and clear Supreme Court order will have that effect.”

The Supreme Court ordered Nebraska to repay Kansas $3.7 million to compensate for Kansas’s actual economic losses during 2005-06 and another $1.8 million as partial disgorgement of Nebraska’s unjust gains from illegally using Kansas water.

That $5.5 million recovery will be used to fully reimburse the attorney general’s office for its roughly $4.5 million in bringing the lawsuit and defending Kansas water rights, making the State of Kansas whole for its cost of litigation. The remainder will be available to the legislature to designate for other purposes as provided by law.

The Supreme Court also ordered technical changes to the calculation of future water flows from the Platte River basin into the Republican River basin as requested by Nebraska. The decision to order that reformation of the accounting procedure was 5-4.

More Republican River Basin coverage here.


Kansas to host Central Plains Irrigation Conference February 17-18 — Rural Radio

January 23, 2015

From the Kansas State Research and Extension via KTIC:

The 2015 Central Plains Irrigation Conference and Exposition will take place Feb. 17-18 at the City Limits Convention Center, Colby, Kansas. The popular annual event focused solely on irrigation-related topics is hosted in Kansas every third year. Sponsors include Kansas State University, Colorado State University, the University of Nebraska and the Central Plains Irrigation Association.

The conference portion of the event will include many technical irrigation sessions presented by academic researchers from the areas of agronomy and irrigation engineering, for example, as well as representatives from governmental agencies such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service.

Session topics include the crop water budget, optimizing crop water productivity in a variable climate, sensor technologies for irrigation management, advancements in subsurface drip irrigation and center pivot irrigation, updates on groundwater issues and crop options for deficit irrigation.

“The overall theme for this event from a crop water standpoint, particularly for western Kansas, is management with limited water supply,” said Danny Rogers, K-State Research and Extension professor and irrigation engineer. “But, the management issues we talk about with irrigation have application whether you have full water or limited water capabilities. There will be something for everyone.”

Bob Gillen, head of tri-center operations for K-State Research and Extension’s Western Kansas Agricultural Research Centers, will present the first day general session on lessons from 100 years of agricultural research in northwest Kansas. Ajay Sharda, assistant professor in K-State’s Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering, will lead a general session discussion about the potential of technology and precision agriculture on the second day of the event.

The conference includes a menu-driven program, Rogers said, so participants can choose what to attend during the two days. The exposition side of the event will allow for industry representatives and irrigators to interact.

“Producers can come in and see, touch and talk about the new sprinkler options, soil sensors, plant health sensors, potentials for aerial sensors and other items out there,” Rogers said. “It’s a chance to have one-on-one conversations with industry folks, specialists and fellow irrigators.”

For a full list of sessions and presenters and the registration form, visit http://www.ksre.ksu.edu/sdi/REvents/CPIAprog.html. Register early by Jan. 30 at a discounted rate of $85 per person. After Jan. 30, registration is $100 per person. The fee covers access to technical and general sessions, the exposition and on-site meals. For more information, contact Donna Lamm at 785-462-7574 or donnalamm@yahoo.com.

More Ogallala Aquifer coverage here. More Republican River Basin coverage here. More Arkansas River Basin coverage here.


Is An Aqueduct A Practical Answer To Western Kansas’ Water Crisis? — Heartland Health Monitor

January 5, 2015

From KCUR.org (Bryan Thompson):

Western Kansas is heavily dependent on the Ogallala Aquifer. But since 1950, that ancient supply of underground water has been rapidly depleted by irrigation. That irrigation produces corn, which is fed to livestock to support the beef and, more recently, dairy industries, which are the foundation of the western Kansas economy. But water levels have dropped so low in parts of more than 30 counties that irrigation pumps can no longer be used there. That’s why rivers in western Kansas are little more than dry stream beds.

Mark Rude is tracking the depletion of the aquifer for a groundwater management district in the heart of the affected area.

“We’re only 9 percent sustainable with that 2 million acre-feet that we use in southwest Kansas,” Rude says. “And 9 percent sustainable is a very formidable number, because you can’t conserve your way out of that.”

In other words, 91 percent of the water currently being pumped would have to be shut off just to keep the aquifer from declining any more. But if the water doesn’t come from the aquifer, where could it come from? The 2011 flooding on the Missouri River gave Rude and others an idea about how to answer that question. While devastating to those along the river, the flood looked like an opportunity.

“Folks who realize the deep value of water in western Kansas looked at that and go, ‘Wow, if we only had a couple days of that flow we could fill the aquifer, and we’d all be happy,’” Rude says.

Rude looked into that idea, and rediscovered the 1982 study proposing a system to capture excess water from the Missouri River and store it in a huge, new lake near White Cloud in the northeastern corner of the state. It would then be pumped uphill through an aqueduct to western Kansas. There it would be stored in another new lake — by far the largest in the state — for distribution.

The cost was estimated at $1,000 per acre-foot of water delivered. With that price tag, the concept was dead on arrival. But recently, the Kansas Water Office told the committee charged with updating the old study that the cost is now closer to $500 per acre-foot. The savings are due to lower interest rates. Cost is a concern for committee member Judy Wegener-Stevens, but it’s not the only reason she’s opposed to the project.

“I don’t feel an aqueduct should be built,” Wegener-Stevens says. “I feel that people in western Kansas have been pumping water unconditionally, without any rules, for 40 years, and they have not used their resource very well.”

Wegener-Stevens, who lives in White Cloud, said the nearby Iowa Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska would fight a proposed aqueduct. They have rights to water in the Missouri River and are working to quantify those rights. There might also be objections from other states, even though the idea is to take only “excess” water. Throw in anticipated battles over property rights and environmental concerns, and some committee members say the aqueduct still doesn’t appear realistic.

But committee member Clay Scott isn’t willing to give up on the idea. Three generations of his family raise cattle and grow irrigated corn and wheat near Ulysses, in southwest Kansas. Scott points to an Arizona aqueduct called the Central Arizona Project as proof that a Kansas aqueduct is feasible. He says a reliable source of water is vital to the future of his family’s farm.

“I’ve got three boys that are looking to maybe come back to the farm, but, you know, it takes a lot of acres in western Kansas to support a family — especially coming through these last three years of drought,” Scott says. “It’s a challenge to tell your boys that there’s an opportunity. There’s a future for you here.”

Scott and other members of the advisory committee say the first priority should be some sort of compact with other states and Indian tribes to secure rights to Missouri River water. Then they can worry about all the other obstacles to the project. Earl Lewis, the assistant director of the Kansas Water Office, agrees with that approach.

“Moving forward and investing considerable time and funds into pursuing a project that doesn’t have the legal security of a water right or some kind of compact doesn’t make a lot of sense,” Lewis says.

Even if the Missouri River doesn’t pan out as a water source, Lewis says there may be other options. State law could be changed to make it easier to transfer surplus water to western Kansas from other parts of the state. And Kansas may be able to get some financial help from Colorado, in exchange for providing water to ease shortages on the Front Range. But it will be up to others to explore those options and others. The advisory committee’s charge was solely to update the aqueduct study and make recommendations. Those recommendations are due by the end of January.

More Ogallala Aquifer coverage here.


Mining the Ogallala — The Pueblo Chieftain

December 21, 2014

ogallalahighplainsdepletions2011thru2013viausgs

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Wells are depleting the High Plains Aquifer at an alarming rate, according to a study released last week by the U.S. Geological Survey.

“The measurements made from 2011 to 2013 represent a large decline,” said Virginia McGuire, USGS scientist and lead author of the study. “This amount of aquifer depletion over a two-year period is substantial and likely related to groundwater pumping.”

The aquifer, also known as the Ogallala Aquifer underlies 175,000 square miles in Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas and Wyoming.

Wells began tapping the aquifer heavily in the 1930s and 1940s, and the acreage irrigated expanded to 15.5 million acres in 2005 from 2.1 million acres in 1949.

The total water stored in the aquifer in 2011 was estimated at 2.92 billion acre-feet (951.5 trillion gallons). Pumping in two years depleted that by 36 million acre-feet (11.7 trillion gallons), causing an average drop in the aquifer of 2.1 feet. The overall rate of decline in the entire aquifer since pre-development is 267 million acre-feet, or 8 percent, resulting in a drop of 15,4 feet through 2013.

The change has been most significant in Texas, where levels dropped 44 feet in some places in the 2011-13 study period and 256 feet since pumping began. In some places, the well levels rose. With the highest rise since predevelopment recorded in Nebraska at 85 feet. Over time, Texas well levels have declined by 41 percent, and Kansas wells by 25 percent. Colorado dropped 14.3 percent over that same period, with more severe declines in the northern part of the state.

For the 2011-13 period, 7,460 wells were studied, 411 of those in Colorado. For the pre-development study, 3,349 wells were included, with 325 in Colorado.

“This multi-state, groundwater-level monitoring activity tracks water-level changes in all eight states through time and has provided data critical to evaluating different options for groundwater management,” said McGuire. “This level of coordinated groundwater-level monitoring is unique among major, multi-state regional aquifers in the country.”

Here’s the release from the United States Geological Survey (Virginia L. McGuire):

Abstract

The High Plains aquifer underlies 111.8 million acres (about 175,000 square miles) in parts of eight States—Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, and Wyoming. Water-level declines began in parts of the High Plains aquifer soon after the beginning of substantial irrigation with groundwater in the aquifer area (about 1950). This report presents water-level changes in the High Plains aquifer from predevelopment (generally before 1950) to 2013 and from 2011 to 2013. The report also presents change in water in storage in the High Plains aquifer from predevelopment to 2013 and from 2011 to 2013.

The methods to calculate area-weighted, average water-level changes; change in water in storage; and total water in storage for this report used geospatial data layers organized as rasters with a cell size of 500 meters by 500 meters, which is an area of about 62 acres. These methods were used to provide a raster dataset of water-level changes for other uses.

Water-level changes from predevelopment to 2013, by well, ranged from a rise of 85 feet to a decline of 256 feet. Water-level changes from 2011 to 2013, by well, ranged from a rise of 19 feet to a decline of 44 feet. The area-weighted, average water-level changes in the aquifer were an overall decline of 15.4 feet from predevelopment to 2013, and a decline of 2.1 feet from 2011 to 2013. Total water in storage in the aquifer in 2013 was about 2.92 billion acre-feet, which was a decline of about 266.7 million acre-feet since predevelopment and a decline of 36.0 million acre-feet from 2011 to 2013.

Click here to read the report.

More coverage of the 2012 drought and its affect on the Ogallala Aquifer from Stephanie Paige Ogburn writing for KUNC. Here’s an excerpt:

In Northeastern Colorado, farmers growing food like corn and potatoes depend for water on a giant, underground reservoir. Called the Ogallala, or High Plains aquifer, this water source spreads across eight high plains states like a giant, underground lake.

In times of drought, farmers who use the aquifer for water take more of it. A report from the U.S. Geological Survey, published December 16, shows the 2012 drought significantly diminished the Ogallala’s water.

“The bottom line was, there was with the drought, increased pumping and you have decline of the water levels,” said Virginia McGuire, the U.S. Geological Survey scientist who authored the report.

Over the last six decades, Colorado has exceeded the aquifer’s resupply by 18.8 million acre-feet of water. An acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover an acre of land one foot deep.

Between 2011 and 2013, the state used up 3 million acre-feet more than was recharged. Across most of the aquifer, other areas also used a whole lot of water during that period. Kansas and Texas, both hard hit by drought, caused the largest declines in Ogallala water levels.

McGuire, who has been tracking the aquifer’s water level for years, said she knew the drought would make an impact. She was a little surprised at how significant an effect it was, though.

“The story is drought was widespread and there were declines in most of the aquifer for the 2011 to 2013 time frame.”

More Ogallala Aquifer coverage here.

Significant portions of the Ogallala Aquifer, one of the largest bodies of water in the United States, are at risk of drying up if it continues to be drained at its current rate. Courtesy of MSU

Significant portions of the Ogallala Aquifer, one of the largest bodies of water in the United States, are at risk of drying up if it continues to be drained at its current rate. Courtesy of MSU


Ogallala aquifer drops by 36 million acre-feet from 2011-2013

December 17, 2014
Significant portions of the Ogallala Aquifer, one of the largest bodies of water in the United States, are at risk of drying up if it continues to be drained at its current rate. Courtesy of MSU

Significant portions of the Ogallala Aquifer, one of the largest bodies of water in the United States, are at risk of drying up if it continues to be drained at its current rate. Courtesy of MSU

From Net Nebraska (Grant Gerlock):

The aquifer lost enough water over a recent two-year period to cover the entire state of Iowa in a foot of water, according to a new report by the U.S. Geological Survey that studies water level changes from 2011-13.

The vast underground lake that supplies water to wells in some of the country’s most productive agricultural land – including parts of Nebraska, Kansas, Colorado, Oklahoma and Texas – lost 36 million acre-feet of water from 2011-13. The aquifer has lost about 8 percent of its stored water since 1950.

Prolonged drought is mostly to blame for the recent depletion, said USGS’ Virginia McGuire.

“If you were a farmer in this area you would have known about the 2012 drought and you would have known about increased pumping in that time-frame,” McGuire said.

In parts of western Kansas and northern Texas, the aquifer is no longer a reliable or sustainable source for irrigation, which has forced some farmers to change how they use their land.

“They’ve had to make some adjustments in farmers going to dry land farming or maybe changing crop types,” McGuire said. “They’ve definitely had to adjust to the declining water levels.”

Irrigation is meant to supplement rainfall, but many arid parts of the Plains states haven’t received typical rainfall in recent years. Without irrigation, farmers may have to cut back on growing lucrative crops like corn and soybeans, in favor of crops like winter wheat and beans, which can require less water.

More Ogallala Aquifer coverage here.


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