June Water Tour To Republican River Basin


Feb. 19, 2015

This summer’s Water and Natural Resources Tour visits the Republican River basin in Nebraska and Colorado June 23-25.

This is a great opportunity to visit a very unique area of southwest Nebraska and eastern Colorado that share….with Kansas….the unique challenges of dividing and cooperating in use of the basin’s waters,” said tour co-organizer Steve Ress of the University of Nebraska’s Nebraska Water Center (NWC).

The tour last visited the basin seven years ago, so it’s time for a thorough update on the myriad of issues in the basin that effect water users, producers, communities and economies in the three states that share its water.

“There have been substantial water use and litigation issues in the basin for more than 15 years amongst the three states that share its water by compact agreement. Those issues, along with surface and groundwater irrigation issues will provide for a very interesting and informative tour,” Ress said.

Use of basin water has remained contentious since Kansas initiated litigation against Nebraska in 1998 for non-compliance with terms of the three-state compact. The compact, dating to 1943, allocates 49 percent of the river’s water to Nebraska, 40 percent to Kansas and 11 percent to Colorado.

The river itself starts in the high plains of Colorado, flows east across northwestern Kansas and into Nebraska, then dips back into Kansas where it joins with the Smokey Hill River, forming the Kansas River.

“Agricultural producers, municipalities, recreation and fish and wildlife all depend on Republican River water in all three states, which have often made compliance with the compact difficult,” Ress said.

This summer’s tour begins and ends in Holdrege.

First day stops being considered include the University of Nebraska’s College of Technical Agriculture in Curtis; the N-CORPE (Nebraska Cooperative Republican Platte Enhancement) and Rock Creek augmentation pipeline projects in the Upper Republican Natural Resources District; and how area producers are effected by groundwater and surface water irrigation demands on water resources. The augmentation pipelines were designed and built to aid Nebraska compliance with stipulations of the three-state compact, but are controversial.

There will be discussions of the terms of the compact and what producers, NRDs and others are doing, along with an overview of the Nebraska Water Balance Alliance by producer Roric Paulmann.

Stops at historic Champion Mill in Nebraska and the Bonny Reservoir augmentation project near Wray, Colorado are also planned. Overnight will likely be in Wray.

On day two participants will hear more about water augmentation projects in the basin, as well as an overview of oil and natural gas drilling in the region. Heading east, the tour will look at the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s Swanson Reservoir and get an overview of USBR operations from their area office in McCook. A tour of Valmont Industries manufacturing facilities there is also planned.

Second night lodging will likely be in McCook.

On day three, participants will hear from representatives of the Frenchman-Cambridge Irrigation District, how ag producers cope and prosper in the often water-strapped basin and get an overview of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineer’s Harlan County Dam, construction of which was prompted by a 1935 flood in the basin that killed more than a hundred people and did millions of dollars in property damage during the depths of the Great Depression.

A visit with representatives of the Nebraska Bostwick Irrigation District is also planned.

Additional detail planning will be done before the complete tour itinerary is publicized, Ress said.

Current tour sponsors in addition to the NWC include NU’s Robert B. Daugherty Water for Food Institute, The Central Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation District in Holdrege, Nebraska Public Power District and the Upper Republican Natural Resources District in Imperial.

Tour host is Mike Jess, former director of the Nebraska Department of Water Resources and retired UNL faculty member.

“No one knows the issues in the basin or the workings of the three-state compact better than Mike,” Ress said.

Additional information will be posted online at watercenter.unl.edu and at facebook.com/NebraskaWaterCenter as it becomes available.

Additional information will be posted online at watercenter.unl.edu and at facebook.com/NebraskaWaterCenter as it becomes available.