U.S. Water News Online
LINCOLN, Neb. — Water officials from Nebraska and Kansas have agreed to another month of talks as they try to resolve differences over use of Republican River water.
But the top water official in Kansas says that isn't a sign that his state is any less likely to launch legal proceedings against Nebraska.
"There's still a significant gap between our perception of what needs to be done and what Nebraska has on the table," David Barfield, chief engineer for Kansas' Division of Water Resources, said after a recent meeting between the two states in Kansas City, Mo. "I wouldn't say that gap has narrowed much" because of the meeting.
Brian Dunnigan, acting director of the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources, had no comment following the meeting.
Kansas water officials say Nebraska's plan for cutting use of Republican River water is inadequate. They have also said they would seek tens of millions of dollars for Nebraska's overuse of water from the river, in addition to a shutdown of wells that irrigate nearly half of the 1.2 million acres in Nebraska's portion of the river basin.
Kansas alleges that Nebraska's water use exceeded what was allowed for 2005-06 by about 27 billion gallons — or enough to supply a city of 100,000 for 10 years. Nebraska officials say that figure is too high.
Use of the river is governed under terms of a 2003 decree from the U.S. Supreme Court, which approved a settlement among Kansas, Nebraska and Colorado of a lawsuit filed by Kansas in 1998.
If Kansas and Nebraska states don't resolve their differences over the next month, it is considered likely Kansas will demand formal, nonbinding arbitration. And if arbitration doesn't end in a deal, Kansas officials have said they would take the issue back to the U.S. Supreme Court.
While the mid-May meeting between the two states agreed to a deadline of sorts for the two sides to reach agreement and avoid legal proceedings, Barfield didn't totally rule out more talks outside of an arbitration setting.
"I can't say definitively we couldn't be persuaded to go any farther after that," he said of the meeting planned for next month.
Barfield said Nebraska officials did not introduce any new plans to reduce water use at the meeting.
Kansas officials have reviewed so-called integrated management plans developed by Nebraska state officials and natural resources districts in the basin to reduce groundwater use, and Barfield said they fall short.
The proposed cuts in the management plans represent only about 15 percent to 20 percent of what Kansas officials think are needed, Barfield said.
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