Northeast Colorado is example of what could happen here

Monday, July 2, 2007

The threat of a judge shutting down irrigation along the Republican River seemed real enough that irrigators, regulators and the Nebraska Legislature worked together to draft a solution, in the form of LB701, that involves great expense to area farmers and property owners.

Even so, there's no guarantee Kansas will accept Nebraska's best efforts to comply with the Republican River Compact.

But a study by Colorado State University shows just how serious the shutdown threat is, although in this case, the Cornhusker state's shoe is on the other foot.

The study, which examine's Colorado's response to Nebraska's need for South Platte River water, concluded that 30,000 acres of land were idled for up to $28 million in economic losses.

Those losses resulted from former State Engineer Hal Simpson's order to shut down about 440 wells.

According to the Denver Post, a study determined that irrigated agriculture generates more than $680 in economic activity per acre in the lower South Platte region.

While corn prices are the best they've been in years, our region's per-acre losses would be nothing compared to those in Colorado where high-priced crops such as onions, sugar beets or potatoes are grown.

If farmers don't plant those higher-cost plants, that's how the $28 million in economic losses could occur. If they stick to lower value crops such as alfalfa, the loss would be about $13 million, CSU associate professor James Pritchett told the Post.

Farmers are frustrated because they are unable to access the plentiful water supplies that have resulted from this year's wet spring.

Because of the order, about 4,000 wells are out of operation this year, and another 1,000 are running at 30 percent of pumping quota. A trial to remove 219 wells from the state's order shutting down wells ended in May and is still waiting for a judge's ruling.

If we wonder what might happen in Southwest Nebraska as a result of further conflict over Republican River water, we need look no farther than Northeast Colorado.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: