By Russ Pankonin, The Imperial Republican
Let’s assume the last time you went to the grocery store, you bought far more hamburger than you could use. What would
your options be?
You could just throw it out. You could give it to someone else. Or, you could freeze it and store it until you needed it next time.
Let’s apply that same theory to all of the Colorado flood water that has been passing through Nebraska in recent weeks.
You could just let the unclaimed water pass right through the state, without making any use of it at all. That essentially gives the water to some other downstream state to use.
Instead of letting it pass by, why not capture as much as possible and store it for use later when and where you need it most.
Right now, the State of Nebraska’s biggest need for water comes in the Republican River Basin. If there’s not enough water in the basin to deliver to Kansas, it’s going to cost the state (which means you and me as taxpayers) big money to pay off Kansas.
Thanks to the efforts of the Department of Natural Resources, natural resources districts and numerous surface water irrigation districts, some of the recent flood waters were diverted to irrigation canals.
With the irrigation season basically over, it made sense to divert water into the canals to ease flooding pressure and aid in the recharge of the underground aquifer.
Some of that recharge seeps into the Republican Basin, which helps Nebraska meet its compact compliance obligations with Kansas.
While this canal diversion is a good idea, it doesn’t go far enough.
Two years ago, the North Platte River flooded due to excessive runoff from Wyoming. The talk of diverting water into the Republican Basin surfaced at that time.
Some people thought it was a crazy idea. Others said the water couldn’t legally be passed from one river basin to another. Others said it wasn’t physically possible to get water from one basin to the other. That’s where they’re wrong.
Central Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation District operates a vast supply canal system from North Platte all the way to Lexington, with feeder canals going as far south as Bertrand and Loomis.
Along the canal between Bertrand and Loomis lies Spring Creek. That creek runs south, dumping into the Republican River between Oxford and Alma, but more importantly, ahead of Harlan County Reservoir.
The amount of water stored in Harlan County Reservoir has a direct impact on whether Nebraska must take additional and sometimes drastic measures in the basin to insure compact compliance.
By using CNPPID’s canals, flood waters from the Platte could be diverted into their canals and later dropped into Spring Creek. Not only would this reduce flood impacts along the Platte, it would add much-needed water into Harlan County Reservoir, help aquifer recharge and most importantly, help Nebraska stay in compliance.
This represents a credible idea in flood situations and isn’t as far-fetched as some would like you to believe. What we need is cooperation amongst the canal owners and operators, landowners, NRDs, state senators, DNR and state government to overcome the hurdles that block such an effort today.
Granted, a flood event like this year or two years ago typically doesn’t happen often. However, when it does, Nebraska needs to be prepared to take advantage of capturing water that would otherwise be “thrown out.”