There will have to be a lot of water under the bridge, literally and figuratively, before Nebraska comes into compliance with the three-state Republican River Compact water flow requirements.
But two top Nebraska officials - Gov. Dave Heineman and Ann Bleed, Department of Natural Resources director - say they are optimistic that the state can reduce its deficit to Kansas and be in compliance for next year. Both officials offered their views on the subject during the annual conference of Nebraska's natural resources districts in Kearney last week.
Even if compliance occurs by 2008, the basin's three NRDs in order to maintain continued compliance will likely need to ratchet down their per-acre groundwater pumping allocations even farther beginning next year.
When water use numbers for 2007 are tallied, Nebraska could have a surplus of approximately 19,000 acre-feet of water, the first time that has happened since 2002, Heineman said. The court settlement with Kansas, reached in 2002, set up an accounting procedure, or model, to determine how much water is available for each state's use and how much each state used each year. The first period of measurement ran from 2003 to 2007.
For 2006, however, Nebraska had a deficit of from 38,000 to 44,000 acre-feet.
"We have made significant progress in Nebraska," Heineman said at the NARD conference. He cited above-average rainfall in the basin this year that led to more water in Harlan County Reservoir, state and federal government-funded buyouts that retired irrigated acres, purchase of surface water from irrigation districts and reduced per-acre pumping by irrigators.
LB 701, passed in the 2007 Legislature, appropriated $2 million a year for two years for vegetation removal along the Republican River.
"I thank producers in the basin who have used less water than their NRD allocations," he said.
He added, "There is a very good chance that Nebraska's consumptive use will not exceed the compact allocation in 2008. That's our goal."
The governor referred to Paul Morrison, Kansas attorney general, who at a compact meeting in August, said he was unimpressed with Nebraska's efforts and threatened additional lawsuits. Heineman appealed to Kansas to hold off from again suing Nebraska over compact overuse. "I say, 'be a good neighbor and work with us and not against us,' " Heineman says. "We are making progress."
Bleed told conference attendees she is optimistic the state can come into compliance next year. "Non-compliance is not an option."
Nevertheless, coming into compliance isn't assured. "It will be difficult. It will require more cutbacks."
Currently, her department and the basin's three NRDs are working on integrated management plans that, among other things, will spell out per-acre allocations for the next few years.