State has eye on Harry Strunk Lake

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The lake named after this newspaper's founder has been an oasis in a sea of drought over the last few years.

While other lakes have been drawn down to record low levels, Harry Strunk Lake on Medicine Creek northwest of Cambridge has been nearly full, replenished by upstream springs.

Besides its main original purposes of flood control and irrigation, the lake has been a haven for fishermen and boaters attracted by its relatively deep waters.

It was too good to be true.

Not unexpectedly, state officials have an eye on Harry Strunk's water as a way to help meet Nebraska's liquid debt to Kansas as a result of the Republican River Compact lawsuit settlement.

Last year, the state spent $2.7 million to buy about 10,000 acre-feet of Nebraska Bostwick Irrigation District in Harlan County Reservoir at Alma, and more water from the Pioneer Irrigation District at Haigler, to send down the river to Kansas.

This year, state officials are talking to the Frenchman-Cambridge Irrigation District about buying water from Harry Strunk Reservoir. They're also talking with Bostwick again this year.

They have good reason to; Kansas officials are already tallying up how much cash they will demand from Nebraska, since we so far have failed to provide the water.

The money for Medicine Creek water hasn't yet been appropriated, but it needs to be soon. Farmers have only a few weeks to make final decisions on what crops they will plant where.

If the state and irrigation districts get together in time, money would probably have to be added in an amendment to another bill to cover the costs.

Likely candidates are LB458, which would begin the process of clearing out years of water-sucking growth of trees and brush from along the river, or LB701, which calls for cuts in irrigation but allows farmers to increase irrigation on some acres by using water transfers and buying water from each other.

If the irrigation districts go along, and the money can be found, the lake will be less attractive this year. If the plan does come together, there's still no guarantee that the whole state, irrigators and city dwellers alike, won't foot the bill for failing to meet our legal obligations to Kansas.

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