No one solution for Republican River basin crisis

Monday, December 18, 2006

Kansas doesn't really want our money, Gov. Dave Heineman told local water interests Friday, it just wants the water it is owed.

If the water isn't forthcoming, however, we doubt the Sunflower State would turn down a big check.

"Most Nebraskans don't think the state should have to pay it," Heineman told members of the Natural Resources District board members from along the Republican River. "Many believe it's a local problem requiring a local solution."

If that's the case, why did the State of Nebraska sign the Republican River Compact of 1943?

The agreement, which gives Colorado 11 percent of the water in the Republican River, Nebraska 49 percent and Kansas 40, but nobody was thinking about pump irrigation when the document was signed back when area dams were being planned and built.

But groundwater irrigation took off, along with dams, conservation measures and vegetation growth that kept water from flowing across the 40th parallel.

State officials looked the other way, either ignorant or overly optimistic that Nebraska's lawyers could maintain the legal boundary between groundwater and surface water irrigation.

Not not surprisingly, Kansas finally filed a lawsuit in 1998, and Nebraska signed a settlement that wouldn't cost us any cash.

Now it's time to pay the piper.

But from whose pocket will it come?

It's already costing the area economy, and the taxpayers who funded the program, in the form of land converted forever to dryland crops, and ready to be devalued for taxation purposes.

And, it's cost taxpayers millions to pay for the rights to water purchased from Nebraska irrigators to send to Kansas.

Continuation of that trend will mean more loss of dollars to Republican River valley farms and the communities they support.

More land will have to be taken out of irrigation to meet Kansas' water demands, but it isn't fair to expect area farms to shoulder the entire burden.

Taxpayers have done their part, but as Gov. Heineman pointed out, there aren't likely to be 25 votes in the Legislature to put the entire burden on the general fund.

State Sen.-elect Mark Christensen and the WaterClaim group have promoted water transfers, and the idea should be given full consideration. But the Platte River basin is fully allocated, and its water interests are facing challenges of their own.

The question of city water supplies didn't come up Friday, but with McCook pulling millions of gallons of water out of the Republican River basin each day, we can't believe the issue will remain quiet for long.

And, the effort to reduce non-native vegetation along the river should continue.

No, there is not one solution to the Republican River water problem, but no one should have to lose a livelihood.

Sacrifices must be made, but they must be distributed fairly.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: