'Flat water' appropriate name for state

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

In light of recent history, we can think of no more appropriate name for our state. Adapted from an Oto Indian word, Nebraska means "flat water."

Water has certainly been the most important single issue in Southwest Nebraska for the past eight years with the ongoing drought.

Then there's McCook's drinking water issue, which extends back more than two decades, first the search for low-nitrate water, then the discovery of trichloroethane from the old TRW plant on Airport Road.

Then there was the abortive purchase of the old McCook Army Air Base and the attempt to purchase water from southern Frontier County, and finally the installation of the multi-million dollar, state-of-the-art water treatment plant.

That's not to mention the expensive treatment that's required by McCook's sewage before it is discharged into the Republican River.

Perhaps we should go back as far as the Depression, when residents first had to deal with dust from as far as Oklahoma, then with the massive Republican River flood of 1935.

It's no wonder local leaders -- Gazette founder Harry Strunk among them -- saw the value in water conservation and helped push through irrigation projects that made area lakes like Harry Strunk Reservoir, Hugh Butler Lake, Swanson Reservoir and Enders Lake a reality.

And, it's no wonder policy makers and farmers embraced conservation even more, building hundreds of small dams and other structures to prevent excessive runoff, and adopting conservation tillage to keep the soil out of the river.

While that's responsible stewardship of the land, few could predict the consequences when the flood control and irrigation dams, coupled with groundwater irrigation and the other conservation measures, left less water for Kansas than it had been promised under the Republican River Compact.

Now we're in the process of implementing the "solution," and that involves undoing some of the results of our earlier actions, with measures such as reducing groundwater irrigation, purchasing surface water rights, sawing down non-native trees along the river, and even turning goats loose on the unwanted vegetation.

Despite the recent downpours in Chase and Hayes counties, we're not ready to say that the drought is broken, although we sincerely hope it is.

But even if normal rainfall returns, it's certain that water will continue to be a pre-emanate issue as long as the "flat water" state exists.

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