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Compact states, Bureau on different pages over compact water storage PDF Print E-mail
Written by Wauneta Breeze   
Friday, 20 May 2016 18:30

By Russ Pankonin

The Wauneta Breeze

Republican River Compact states Nebraska, Kansas and Colorado and the Bureau of Reclamation find themselves on different pages when it comes to storing compact compliance water in Harlan County Reservoir.

It’s gotten to the point that Nebraska U.S. Senator Deb Fischer got involved recently  by introducing an amendment to an appropriations bill to remedy the situation.

While the amendment didn’t get the needed 60 votes for passage, it did send a message that the states aren’t happy with how the Bureau is accounting for and storing the  water.

Right now, Nebraska has 40,000 acre feet of water stored in Harlan County for delivery to the Kansas Bostwick Irrigation District (KBID) to keep Nebraska in compact compliance.

Upper Republican Natural Resources District (URNRD) Manager Jasper Fanning said the Bureau is considering this water to be “special water” above and beyond the irrigation project water they are storing.

Fanning said all three compact states agree this water belongs to KBID and is for their benefit.

Fanning said it remains sketchy how the Bureau determined the 40,000 AF of water wasn’t deemed “project water.”

He said the Bureau’s contending that because the state provided the compliance water through augmentation and it’s only available to Kansas, the Bureau can treat the water differently.

Most importantly, because the water is available to Kansas, it does not endanger Nebraska’s compliance with the compact, Fanning said.

However, the Bureau believes it gives them the right to charge for storing the water.

He said they are charging KBID an extra $1 per acre this year to deliver the water. Had KBID not arrived at an agreement with the Bureau, the Bureau could have released the water at their choosing, he said.

“I know, this doesn’t make sense. Right?” he told his board at their regular meeting earlier this month.

Fanning noted basin entities have spent $125 million to provide Kansas with water for compliance and now “the Bureau of Reclamation has found a way to charge somebody for delivering this excess supply,” Fanning said.

That’s what led to the legislation introduced by Sen. Fischer, which had the support of all six senators from the three states.

The goal of the legislation was to reinforce that the Bureau remains subject to state water laws and not hamper agreed-upon compact agreements between the three states.

While the legislation fell short of the votes needed to advance, Fanning said efforts continue on other fronts to ensure the Bureau’s cooperation.

Fanning said the states have already agreed to treat augmentation water the same as any other water once it’s in the stream in terms of compact compliance.

He said the Bureau is “trying to color the augmentation water red” and then have a contract for “red water.” The Bureau seems to want to color the water and treat it special, he added.

Water-short year

Fanning said it’s possible that if enough rain events occur near Harlan, Neb. could escape being in a water-short year. That determination is made June 30.

Under a water-short year, compact compliance is figured over a two-year usage average versus a five-year average in a non-water-short year.

Fanning said if this year is not a water-short year, under the five-year average, Nebraska would be 80,000-plus AF to the good and no action would be needed for compact compliance.

However, Fanning said they are planning for a water-short year and have already pumped 31,000 AF from the NCORPE project since the first of the year. This should cover the expected shortfall if a water-short year is declared this year, he said.

He said they plan to continue pumping NCORPE until the end of May, with hopes that it could have an impact on the water-short designation this year.

Under the agreement with Kansas, water pumped prior to June 1 can be included in this year’s compact compliance accounting.

He added the URNRD has no plans to operate the Rock Creek augmentation project this year.

Fanning said the three states are continuing to work well together at resolving issues versus poising themselves for litigation.