- Associated Press - Friday, August 28, 2015

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Kansas and Nebraska will extend an agreement for a year to allow Nebraska to pump more than its share of the Republican River while ensuring Kansas eventually gets the water it is due, according to the Republican River Compact Administration.

The agreement announced Thursday extends similar agreements reached for the past two growing seasons.

David Barfield, chief engineer with the Kansas Department of Agriculture’s division of water resources, said Nebraska likely will pump about 35,000 acre-feet more than its share would allow in 2016. In return, Nebraska will pump enough groundwater to Harlan County reservoir this winter and spring to supply northern Kansas through the 2016 growing season, Barfield told The Topeka Capital-Journal (http://bit.ly/1VhaQgM ).

Barfield said If Nebraska uses more than it pumps over the coming winter, it will pump the rest in 2016-2017 winter. That will allow both states to use the water when it’s needed and let Nebraska replace the extra water when more is available and not being used for agriculture.

“They get a credit (to offset their overuse) and we get to use the water,” he said.

Kansas, Nebraska and Colorado have been arguing over use of the Republican River for decades. A 1943 compact gave Nebraska 49 percent of the river’s water, with Kansas receiving 40 percent and Colorado getting 11 percent. In February, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered Nebraska to pay Kansas $5.5 million for using more water than it was entitled to in previous years.

Since then, the states have tried to work more closely together. Barfield said the one-year agreements give the compact time to work toward a long-term agreement.

Without the extension, Nebraska would have to stop irrigating as much as 300,000 acres, Barfield said. Kansas benefits by having a secure supply of water for the nearly 40,000 acres of farmland that rely on Harlan County reservoir, he said.

The agreement also gives farmers in both states certainty about how much water they will be able to use and irrigators in the Republican River basin more notice of some compliance activities than the previous agreements, according to a news release from the river compact administration.

“We are hopeful that this positive momentum will continue to move us closer to the goal of securing a long-term agreement,” said Gordon W. Fassett, director of the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources and chairman of the compact administration. “With significantly more planning time, Nebraska’s water users will have greater certainty in their water supply and make the best decisions for their operations.”

The current agreement doesn’t address a disagreement between Kansas and Colorado over the river. Kansas contends Colorado has used more than its share of the north and south tributaries of the Republican River and in previous years has put most of the offsetting water into the north fork, which flows through Nebraska first.

The south fork goes directly through Kansas, meaning the state’s farmers are short-changed if Colorado doesn’t replace what it pumped, Barfield said.

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Information from: The Topeka (Kan.) Capital-Journal, http://www.cjonline.com

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