Kansas, Nebraska already working on agreement for 2015
By Russ Pankonin
The Imperial Republican
Action taken by Kansas last week indicates the stalemate on water issues in the Republican River Basin that Kansas has with Nebraska and Colorado could be coming to an end.
During a meeting of the Republican River Compact Administration (RRCA) Oct. 22 in Denver, Kansas approved a resolution to give Nebraska 100 percent credit for augmentation pumping in 2014.
Kansas also approved a resolution to give Colorado 100 percent credit for augmentation pumping in 2015. Kansas had already agreed to give Colorado 100 percent credit for 2014 pumping.
In return, Nebraska agreed to store 14,100 acre-feet of surface irrigation water intended for Kansas in Harlan County Reservoir. This water can then be used by Kansas in 2015 or later.
Without the agreement, Nebraska would have released the water prior to the end of the year to ensure compact compliance with Kansas.
Upper Republican Natural Resources District (URNRD) Manager Jasper Fanning called last week’s agreement a “win-win” for both states.
Jim Schneider, deputy director of the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources, concurred.
“The resolution approved by the RRCA allows water now being held in Harlan County Reservoir to be released to Kansas during the 2015 irrigation season when it can be beneficially used, without compromising Nebraska’s ability to maintain compact compliance,” he said.
“The ability of the states to work together in resolving these issues is a significant step forward,” he added.
For Nebraska, the agreement means the state will get full credit toward compact compliance for 63,500 acre-feet of water pumped from the two augmentation projects.
Had the agreement not been approved, Nebraska would get credit for just 37,000 acre-feet of pumping.
The URNRD operates its own project in southwest Dundy County and is part of a five-NRD consortium operating a larger project in Lincoln County.
Fanning said Nebraska water engineers calculated the state needed to make up somewhere around 40,000 acre-feet of water this year to stay in compliance with Kansas.
With full credit for the 63,500 acre-feet, Fanning said Nebraska will easily be in compliance for 2014.
In addition, that leaves Nebraska with another 20,000 acre-feet or so to be used for figuring compliance in future years.
That becomes especially important because Schneider said it looks like 2015 will be another water-short year. During water-short years, compliance is figured over a two-year period versus a five-year period during normal years.
Schneider said the deal will benefit surface water users because rights to the water presently stored in the reservoirs have been turned back to the districts.
For the past two years, the state, which administers surface water, has declared a compact call on surface water.
This required surface water irrigation districts to pass all natural flows through their reservoirs beginning Jan. 1 and until the state took off the call. In 2014, the call was removed by July 1.
Schneider said they will release their preliminary forecast on compact call conditions Monday. If a compact call is forecast, he said the crediting agreement should lessen the effect on surface water irrigators.
New sense of cooperation
Fanning said getting the states around a table and working together is a benefit for water users in all three states.
The agreements represent a new sense of cooperation and trust being developed between the states, he noted.
In a news release, Kansas Secretary of Agriculture Jackie McClaskey agreed.
“I’m pleased with the agreements we’ve come to with our neighbors in Nebraska and Colorado.
“There is still work to be done to strengthen our relationships and to administer the compact together, but today’s agreements are very important steps towards a much better long-term situation,” McClaskey said.
She said Kansas worked hard with their neighbors in Nebraska and Colorado to develop common-sense proposals that protect Kansas’ rights under the compact while balancing certainty and flexibility for all three states.
“We are encouraged by these agreements and will continue to work with Nebraska and Colorado to resolve the Republican River issues that still separate us. This is what the water users of Kansas, Nebraska and Colorado rightly expect of us,” McClaskey said.
Fanning said the RRCA will meet again in mid-November and expects Nebraska and Kansas to work out a similar agreement on augmentation pumping for 2015.
Colorado also pledged to work with Kansas to identify options to increase streamflow of the South Fork of the Republican at the state line, address accounting on the Bonny Reservoir release and give Kansas access to unallocated water in the South Fork.
Supreme Court arguments
Last week’s agreement comes on the heels of oral arguments by Kansas and Nebraska before the U.S. Supreme Court Oct. 14.
The arguments addressed a special water master’s recommendations that Kansas cannot have 300,000 acres of irrigated land in the Republican Basin permanently shut down, as requested; nor should Kansas get the $80 million in damages they requested for overpumping by Nebraska in 2005 and 2006.
Instead the special master said Nebraska only had to pay a penalty of $5.5 million.
A final decision by the Supreme Court on the special master’s recommendations is expected before the end of June.