The state of Nebraska is releasing water from Harlan County Reservoir in an effort to increase flows headed to Kansas as part of the three-state Republican River Compact. Officials with the Department of Natural Resources determined earlier this year that additional water would be needed to be in compliance for this year.
The state of Kansas agreed to the release, which would allow for a strict accounting for the compact to be observed, instead of a compromise that officials say was aimed at sharing water for future irrigation seasons.
"It was my hope that the state of Kansas and the Bureau of Reclamation could have worked out a plan over the past four months that would have benefited basin water users by making this water available to them without compromising Nebraska's ability to comply with the Compact. This did not happen," Nebraska Department of Natural Resources Director Brian Dunnigan said.
A statement from the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources said Kansas officials had expressed an interest in saving the water that would be released to comply with the compact for 2014 and possibly even 2015. Nebraska officials agreed with this plan, but only if Kansas would agree to hold Nebraska harmless in the case of a shortfall with the Republican River Compact.
Kansas did not agree to that deal making it necessary to release water from the reservoir. Dunnigan said, "The risk of non-compliance with the Compact is too great for Nebraska to wait until the end of the year to take these actions."
Other actions have been taken by the three Republican River Basin Natural Resources Districts to increase streamflows during dry times. A "compact call" was placed on surface water in the basin at the beginning of the year. This call has restricted surface water users and irrigation districts in Nebraska from storing or diverting streamflows in the Republican Basin.
"It is unfortunate that these actions are necessary, but when these
plans were being developed three years ago everyone anticipated dry years and
that this day would likely come," Dunnigan said. "I believe that Nebraska put a very reasonable
solution on the table for the state of Kansas that would likely have benefited
all water users in the basin, but Kansas appears to be much more concerned
about the strict accounting result for 2013, so we are left with no other
options but to release the water so that the accounting books will balance."
The release of approximately 20,000 acre-feet of water from Harlan County Lake began Wednesday, and is expected to take approximately fifteen days.
Officials hope that by conducting the release, compliance with the Compact will be achieved for the sixth straight year.