Water payment halt should bring issue to a head

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

A wobbly two-legged stool lost one of its legs this week as it was announced that bonds won't be issued and farmers won't be paid not to use irrigation water until a lawsuit is settled.

The plan, which would begin paying irrigators about $370 per acre next month, fell apart after the bonding company, Ameritas, told Republican River Natural Resources Districts that it couldn't sell the bonds until a lawsuit by Friends of the River is settled.

That lawsuit, by nine local residents challenges the use of real estate taxes to purchase water to satisfy Kansas' demands, a use they contend violates the state constitution.

Measures like reducing vegetation along the river may continue, but without the purchase of water from irrigators, the LB701 plan will fall apart.

While the NRDs are blaming the lawsuit for the latest crisis, critics say the plan was flawed from the beginning.

They say the water rights should have been purchased permanently in the first place, rather than on a year-to-year basis. The conflict, they say, pits surface irrigators, who are favored by state law and environmental interests, against groundwater irrigators.

The latest action seems to virtually guarantee that the issue will come to a head sooner, rather than later, when Kansas was already likely to challenge Nebraska's compliance with the Republican River Compact.

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