Kansas, Colorado Settle River Dispute

Republican River Compact Has Long History of Disagreement, Court Battles

Todd Neeley
By  Todd Neeley , DTN Staff Reporter
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Kansas and Colorado agreed to spend millions of dollars to maintain the south fork of the Republican River Basin as part of a settlement agreement this week. (Photo by Jeffrey Beall)

OMAHA (DTN) -- Colorado will pay Kansas $4 million to settle a Republican River Compact dispute, according to an agreement signed on Wednesday by the governors and attorneys general of both states.

The three states have battled for decades over questions of water allocations, which led to many farmer lawsuits that claimed producers did not receive water entitled to them.

The agreement said Colorado will pay $2 million to "resolve any disputes" regarding the state's past use of water, and for any accounting period ending on or prior to Dec. 31, 2013.

In addition, Colorado agreed to pursue a "good-faith effort" to spend an additional $2 million by Dec. 31, 2027, in the south fork of the Republican River Basin in Colorado.

Back in February, Colorado settled with Nebraska on the compact, paying Nebraska $4 million for any violations.

As part of the new agreement, Kansas and Colorado agreed to forgo new damage claims for any water accounting period ending on or prior to Dec. 31, 2013.

Kansas also agreed to spend the $2 million it received from Colorado to benefit the south fork of the Republican River Basin within Kansas, to help maintain its compliance with the compact.

As part of the agreement, neither state admitted to violating the compact.

"Furthermore, the amount of payment was the subject of negotiation among Colorado and Kansas and does not constitute a valuation of water in either state, and may not be used by them as evidence of the value of water in any future dispute in the Republican River Basin or any other basin," the agreement said.

The agreement would be scrapped if either state doesn't fulfill its obligation.

COMPACT OF CONFLICT

Nebraska, Colorado and Kansas entered into the compact in 1943 to divide water supplies in the basin. The basin includes parts of southwest Nebraska, northwest Kansas and eastern Colorado. Kansas and Colorado halted new groundwater irrigation development in the basin in the 1980s. Nebraska continued to allow the drilling of new wells. Kansas objected to Nebraska's actions.

In May 1998, the state of Kansas filed a complaint with the U.S. Supreme Court that the state of Nebraska had violated the compact by allowing the development of thousands of wells. Kansas alleged Nebraska was using more water than its allocation, and in doing so, deprived Kansas of its full allocation.

The states reached a settlement in 2003 that accounted for the pumping of ground water.

The compact requires Nebraska, Kansas and Colorado to take action if the reservoir is low.

During a dry spell in 2005-2006, Nebraska overused its allotted share of the river and Kansas water users were harmed. In 2010, Kansas filed a lawsuit against Nebraska in the U.S. Supreme Court. In 2015, the court ruled Nebraska violated the compact and required them to pay Kansas $5.5 million in damages and to take additional actions.

After the Kansas lawsuit, Nebraska took steps to achieve compliance, including developing two augmentation projects to enhance flows in the river to offset overuse. Colorado also developed a similar project to offset its overuse.

The Kansas Legislature took action in 2012 to establish conservation statewide.

Kansas lawmakers modified the well-abandonment statute to require well owners to use their wells or lose them in areas that are closed to new water rights. Users are required to submit annual water-use reports.

The state has also established multi-year flexible water accounts. There is a five-year pool where a producer can use water as needed, based on area annual use.

Additionally, the state has employed local enhanced management areas, setting a process for producers to propose water conservation plans.

Todd Neeley can be reached at todd.neeley@dtn.com

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(BAS/AG)

Todd Neeley