Republican River NRDs stepping up to challenge
CURTIS, Nebraska - The Republican River Basin Natural Resources Districts have been working hard to protect Nebraska's most valuable natural resource in the basin: our water. The approximately 1.1 million irrigated acres in Nebraska's portion of the Republican Basin represent what is believed to be the largest area of regulated groundwater use not only in Nebraska, but in the eight-state region that overlies the Ogallala Aquifer. In addition to regulating water, the NRDs have begun projects that will help assure compliance with the Republican River Compact while maintaining the viability of our vital agriculture economic sector.
Gov. Dave Heineman, Attorney General Jon Bruning, and the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources successfully defended Nebraska in a suit filed by Kansas regarding the Republican River Compact. Kansas had sought a permanent irrigation shutdown of 300,000 acres in Nebraska and damages of $80 million; a Special Master appointed by the U.S. Supreme Court recently rejected Kansas' request for a shutdown because Nebraska's compact compliance plans are adequate and concluded damages should be $5.5 million. The outcomes reflect their hard work, the efforts of the NRDs and irrigators to implement common sense measures that achieve and assure compact compliance, while helping preserve natural resources for generations to come.
In addition to denying Kansas' request for future restrictions on water use, Special Master William J. Kayatta, acknowledged Nebraska's accounting concerns, which are huge victories compared to the smaller damage award to Kansas. Among Special Master Kayatta's recommendations were the following:
Republican River Compact Administration (RRCA) Accounting Procedures should be corrected for accounting years after 2006 so that Nebraska is not charged with the consumption of Imported Water Supply as if it were Virgin Water Supply.
100% of the evaporation from Harlan County Lake during 2006 as calculated under the RRCA Accounting Procedures should be charged to Kansas.
Kansas' request that Nebraska be found in contempt should be denied.
All remaining requests for relief, including Kansas' requests for injunctive relief, sanctions, and appointment of a River Master, should be denied.
The local NRDs continue to protect the local economy of Nebraska while providing adequate regulations to protect our water resources. The ability to create augmentation projects and the willingness of Nebraska irrigators to finance them will assure that Nebraska maintains compliance, sustains the water supply, and protects the local irrigated economy in the basin.
On the heels of Special Master Kayatta's recommendations, arbitrator Jeffrey Fereday issued a non-binding arbitration order approving Nebraska's Rock Creek Augmentation Plan and Alternative Water-Short Year Administration Plan. Fereday rejected Kansas' multi-pronged challenge to the augmentation project in Dundy County and concluded that it complied with terms of a settlement between Kansas, Colorado and Nebraska reached in 2003. The Upper Republican NRD began operating the project early this year. It takes water that otherwise would have been used to irrigate crops in the sand hills north of Parks, Neb. and deposits it into Rock Creek, a tributary of the Republican River.
A second project, the Nebraska Cooperative Republican Platte Enhancement Project (N-CORPE) in Lincoln County, provides an opportunity to provide additional water in compact call and water-short years and avoid additional regulation. Almost 16,000 acres were retired from irrigation by the Lower Republican, Middle Republican, Upper Republican and Twin Platte NRDs with the purchase of the farm for the NCORPE project. The project is very similar to the Rock Creek Augmentation Project but significantly larger and will be operational in 2014 to help prevent an irrigation shutdown on 100,000 or more irrigated acres in the Basin during compact call and water short years. Another difference between the two projects is the water pumped from N-CORPE will be treated as imported water potentially providing Nebraska more credit for compact compliance. In the future, water will also be piped into the Platte River to help return a portion of that Basin to 1997 levels.
Although we expect more challenges in the future, we will continue working hard to protect our state's precious water resources and economy for generations to come while taking actions needed to meet interstate water obligations.