Compact compliance will take toolbox of possible solutions

Friday, September 18, 2009

Democracy won't work if we don't all get involved.

After years of complacency and apathy, that seems to be ending.

From the TEA Parties protesting current economic policies, to townhall meetings on health care reform -- like one slated for McCook during Heritage Days -- to Thursday's turnout on the Republican River in Holdrege, all of us are finding reason to get involved.

In all cases, the incentive is economic -- all of us are taxpayers, all of us face healthcare costs and all of us, whether we realize it or not, depend on irrigation for our livelihoods.

Thursday's meeting of Natural Resources District and Nebraska Department of Natural Resources officials confirmed that shutting down pump irrigation in the Republican River is in fact a possibility, but only, as state officials hope, as a last resort when other actions haven't been effective enough.

Nebraska dodged a bullet with Colorado-based arbitrator Karl Dreher said Nebraska owed Kansas just $10,000 for overusing river water in 2005 and 2006, compared to the $9 million Kansas contended.

Dreher, however, did make it clear that Nebraska would have to get its act together, and that's what officials are trying to do.

We have water-short years one quarter to one-third of the time, officials say, which is determined by whether the Harlan County Reservoir is full.

The solution seems obvious -- keep the reservoir topped off.

Besides the threatened irrigation shutdown, a pipeline is proposed to pump water from the Little Blue River basin to the Republican Basin. The water will come from an old ammunition site near Hastings, and will be cleaned up before being transferred.

But the pipeline is costly and may be politically difficult to build, as supporters of a similar pipeline in Colorado have found. Nebraska and Kansas, initially at least, rejected a plan by Colorado to pump water from the Wray, Colo., area to the Nebraska border at just the right place to bring Colorado into compliance with the Republican River Compact. Colorado officials still hope to build the pipeline.

Without Nebraska's own Compact Compliance Pipeline, it will be up to Republican River Basin irrigators to make up the difference when they can least afford to do so, during dry years.

Clearly complying with the Republican River Compact is not the job of a one-trick pony. A pipeline, purchasing of water rights and, yes, pumping limitations will all have to be part of toolbox of solutions.

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