3 Republican River states agree on new approach to managing water in the disputed basin

Associated Press

The three states crossed by the Republican River have agreed on a new approach to managing water in the disputed basin.

Officials in Colorado, Nebraska and Kansas say the agreements on how the river's water will be managed this year and next year show they are taking a more cooperative approach.

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"We are moving in the right direction to arrive at a workable solution that protects Kansas water users, but is balanced and fair to all parties and reflects good water management," Kansas Agriculture Secretary Jackie McClaskey said.

Disputes over the 1943 compact that spells out how much water each state is entitled to have wound up before the U.S. Supreme Court numerous times. Nebraska is entitled to 49 percent of the water, Kansas gets 40 percent and Colorado gets 11 percent.

In October, Nebraska and Kansas were arguing before the Supreme Court about how much Nebraska should pay Kansas for using more than its legal share of the river's water in 2005 and 2006.

These new agreements won't affect those past disputes, but they may help the states avoid future ones. The new terms will allow some of the water owed to Kansas farmers this year to be kept in the Harlan County Reservoir in Nebraska until Kansas officials request it.

Previously, the water would have been released this fall when farmers couldn't use it.

The new agreements also ensure Nebraska natural resource districts along the river will receive full credit for all the water being pumped into the river to help ensure enough water flows downstream to Kansas.

Over the past several years, the natural resource districts have bought thousands of acres of land along the Republican River and ended irrigation there. The water that had been used for irrigation is being pumped into the river to boost its flow.

Jasper Fanning, general manager of the Upper Republican Natural Resources District, said it's encouraging that the recent talks have been focused on making the best use of the river's water, not on old arguments and litigation.

"The fact that the discussions have produced agreements that will have practical benefits for water users in both states shows resolve and competency on both sides that provides hope future differences can continue to be settled outside a courtroom," Fanning said.

The three states agreed to meet again in January to work on a long-term agreement.