The Nebraska Department of Natural Resources once again will close surface water appropriations in the Republican River Basin for 2017, effective today.
NDNR announced Friday that 2017 will be another Compact Call Year in the Republican basin, and that the necessary surface water appropriations upstream of the Guide Rock Diversion Dam will remain closed until further notice. River water is diverted at Guide Rock for delivery to the Kansas Bostwick Irrigation District via the Courtland Canal.
In a Compact Call Year, extra groundwater and surface water management steps are judged necessary to help Nebraska remain in compliance with the interstate Republican River Compact of 1943.
Nebraska, Kansas, Colorado and the federal government are signatories to the 1943 compact, which appropriates waters of the Republican basin to the three states. The river rises in eastern Colorado and flows through northwestern Kansas and southern Nebraska before flowing back into Kansas near Hardy.
This will be the fifth straight Compact Call Year for Nebraska, which has struggled at times to remain in compliance with the compact and has defended itself against two lawsuits by Kansas alleging that Nebraska was overusing its rightful share of Republican water, and thereby injuring its downstream neighbor.
To hold up their end of the bargain, the Lower, Middle and Upper Republican natural resources districts in the Republican basin adhere to the terms of integrated water management plans they have adopted jointly with the state. The districts’ management steps include rationing groundwater pumpage for irrigation, prohibiting development of net new irrigated acres, and working together to augment river streamflows through the Nebraska Cooperative Republican Platte Enhancement project (N-CORPE), a wellfield in Lincoln County.
The Lower Republican NRD, based in Alma, encompasses all of Furnas, Harlan and Franklin counties, plus most of Webster County and southern Nuckolls County.
NDNR, which has the statutory authority to regulate surface water use, suspends permits for diversion and storage of river water. Surface irrigation districts in south central Nebraska affected by such suspensions include the Nebraska Bostwick and Frenchman Cambridge irrigation districts.
The first Kansas-Nebraska lawsuit over Republican River water was settled out of court in 2002; the settlement was accepted by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2003.
While Kansas technically won the second lawsuit in 2015, portions of the ruling were favorable to Nebraska’s position. Moreover, relations between the states over Republican River issues have improved markedly in recent years.
In August, Nebraska, Kansas and Colorado agreed that in Compact Call Years going forward, Nebraska will be required to deliver Kansas only the volumes of water it needs and can use in that year. Additional water could be delivered to Kansas later as necessary.
In another change, water not needed for immediate delivery to Kansas would not need to be sent down to the Harlan County Reservoir, so long as it remained available for later delivery — for instance, beneath the ground at N-CORPE.