Republican River water users in Neb. face limits

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HASTINGS, Neb. (AP) — Nebraska officials predict that many farmers along the Republican River will have to limit their water use more next year because of the dry conditions.

The Hastings Tribune reports that the extra conservation measures are needed to make sure enough water flows downstream to Kansas.

In the past, Nebraska residents have used more of the Republican River's water than they are entitled to. The issue has led to two lawsuits between Kansas and Nebraska, including one that's still pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Nebraska Department of Natural Resources says the Upper and Lower Republican River Natural Resource Districts will need to impose additional water conservation measures next year.

The Middle Republican River NRD is expected to be OK without additional conservation.

The state's announcement that additional conservation measures will likely be needed next year wasn't a surprise given that much of Nebraska remains in a drought. The final forecast for the river is due out at the end of the year.

"It is unfortunate that these dry periods require these additional actions, but I am confident that we are now well prepared to proactively address the dry conditions that the basin is currently facing," said Brian Dunnigan, director of the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources.

Since the last time Nebraska overused the Republican River, a number of measures have been taken to help reduce how much water the state uses.

For instance, the three Republican River NRDs last month joined with the Twin Platte NRD to buy 15,800 acres. The groups plan to retire those acres from production and eliminate irrigation on the land to increase water flows in the Republican and Platte Rivers.

And earlier this year, the Middle Republican Natural Resources District purchased surface water rights for 672 acres to help Nebraska stay comply with the Republican River compact. Officials said that purchase would allow 2,400 acre feet of surface water to flow downstream.

Who gets to use the Republican River's water is spelled out in a three-state compact between Colorado, Nebraska and Kansas. The 1943 agreement allocates 49 percent of the river's water to Nebraska, 40 percent to Kansas and 11 percent to Colorado.

Kansas and Nebraska reached a settlement over water in the Republican in 2003, but in its latest lawsuit, Kansas accused Nebraska of violating the terms of that settlement. Kansas claims Nebraska exceeded its allotment by more than 78,000 acre-feet of water from 2005 through 2006.

Nebraska taxpayers could be liable for Kansas' economic losses if the lawsuit succeeds, and farmers might have to shut down irrigation along hundreds of thousands of acres near the river.

Nebraska farmers could also be forced to stop irrigating 300,000 of the 1.2 million acres of the Republican River basin in the state if Kansas prevails in its lawsuit.

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Information from: Hastings Tribune, http://www.hastingstribune.com

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