Kansas, Nebraska water officials outline aspects of long-term agreement

This is the first in a series of stories reporting on the water conference held in Imperial on March 27.

 

By Russ Pankonin

Johnson Publications

Last summer Nebraska, Kansas and Colorado signed a cooperative agreement to manage water in the Republican River Basin  together. 

The historic agreement came after water officials in all three states established a working relationship rather than litigating issues in court.

Officials from Nebraska and Kansas outlined some of the key details of the agreement during the Upper Republican Natural Resources District’s second annual water conference March 27 in Imperial.

Nebraska requirements

One of Kansas’ goals in the the new agreement was to provide irrigators in the Kansas Bostwick Irrigation District (KBID)  and other water users water when they needed it. 

Nebraska agreed not to release water from Harlan County Lake (HCL) just to meet compact compliance. 

Instead, they will work with Kansas to achieve the most efficiency from the water released. 

Compliance calculations for the three Republican Basin NRDs (Upper, Middle and Lower) showed they would need to offset about 37,000 acre feet of overpumping in 2016. 

Because the compliance calculations are made after the pumping season, Jesse Bradley, assistant director of Nebraska’s Department of Natural Resources, said the state needed some latitude in making up any differences. 

That allows Nebraska to use augmentation and streamflow to ensure there is sufficient water in HCL by June 1. 

Kansas estimated it would only need about 20,000 AF from HCL in 2017. So rather than pump the other 17,000 AF, the balance will be stored underground. This reduces water loss due to evaporation from the HCL, improving efficiency of the water. 

Kansas retains the right to that 17,000 AF.

Bradley said this gives Nebraska more flexibility to meet compliance with Kansas set forth by the 1943 water compact between the three states. 

Kansas agreed to give Nebraska 100 percent credit towards compliance for any augmentation water released in the basin. 

Bradley said the agreement provides for preserving water supplies for the future by not pumping augmentation or poorly-timed releases from HCL.

On Oct.1, the two states decide whether or not to pump the water stored underground to meet compliance.

Kansas water management

As part of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2015, Nebraska was ordered to pay Kansas $5.5 million in damages for over-pumping in 2012-13. 

Earl Lewis, director of the Kansas Water Office, said they happily accepted the money. Since KBID suffered the most from Nebraska’s non-compliance, Kansas allocated $3.5 million back to that area. 

Lewis said they are using $2.5 million to convert KBID canals to underground pipelines. He said this will save the district between 8-10,000 AF of water on an annual basis. 

Susan Metzger, Kansas’ assistant ag secretary, said technology will play a key role in the conservation of water going forward. 

She said Kansas has created three water technology farms where they put into practice a variety of technological advances and conservation measures. 

She said they held a field day at one of the farms and drew nearly 300 people, showing the  great interest of farmers in this research. 

She added they want to expand to another four farms this year. 

Kansas has also created local enhanced management areas, which resemble Nebraska’s NRD system, and provide for local control in water management and conservation. 

The program is starting to build momentum across the state and six management areas have been approved. 

Bradley said the integrated management plans (IMP) in the Republican Basin will evolve as Kansas and Nebraska continue to work together. 

The basin is already on its third generation of IMPs and predicts the fourth generation won’t be far behind. That means things are working, he added. 

He noted that 2013 wasn’t a shining year for compact compliance due to drought conditions. 

He said prospects for the basin, water-wise, look good going forward.

The system as a whole looks better with more water in reservoirs. In addition, the department hasn’t had to issue any closing notices on surface water for the past three years.

He added that groundwater declines in some areas are starting to stabilize. 

As part of the three-state agreement, Kansas and Colorado also crafted resolutions to deal with Colorado’s compact compliance efforts. 

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