Kansas looking at Missouri River to help irrigate western Kansas
Topeka — A proposal to transport water from the Missouri River to irrigate crops in western Kansas and replenish the Ogallala Aquifer was rolled out before state legislators on Tuesday.
"It's exciting for the state of Kansas to be looking at this," said Tracy Streeter, director of the Kansas Water Office.
But officials noted they were in the early stages of considering the Kansas Aqueduct Project.
The project would siphon water from the Missouri River from the most northeast corner of Kansas in White Cloud, and transport the water some 360 miles through a series of lift stations and canals past Perry Lake, through the Flint Hills and into western Kansas.
David Brenn, president of the Kansas Water Congress, said the aqueduct proposal "is the best and last long-term hope for water supply in the state of Kansas." The congress is made up of water officials from across the state and works on water resource issues.
Mark Rude, executive director of the Garden City-based Groundwater Management District No. 3, said if the state takes no action in the next 50 years, the Ogallala Aquifer, a massive underground water system stretching from Nebraska to Texas, will be 70 percent depleted.
Kansas and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have joined to fund a $300,000 study to re-calculate a 1982 study on the aqueduct project. In 1982, the study pegged the cost at $3.6 billion, but officials said estimates now could range from $12.5 billion to $25 billion. The new study is expected to be launched next year and completed in 18 months.
Streeter said the idea is to divert water at high flow or flood times on the Missouri River. That would help Kansas farmers and alleviate downstream flooding on the Missouri, he said. The water office is the state's water agency, which conducts water planning and helps make state water policy.
Earlier this year, Groundwater Management District No. 3 told state officials that they were considering filing an appropriation for water rights from the Missouri River.
Anticipating litigation from others with interest in the Missouri River, Rude said it was important to seek a water right to establish a priority on the river.
But state officials urged the groundwater district to take no action until the state can make a thorough examination of the proposal.
Streeter cautioned that there are numerous interests that use the river that are looking closely at what Kansas does. If the study says the project can be done, then many stakeholders would have to be brought on board, he said.
"At some point in time, there will probably be a play on the river, and Kansas needs to be well-positioned, but I'm not sure of the timing on that," Streeter said.
Several members of the Special Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources agreed, noting that legal fights over water rights often take decades to resolve.
Now that it is apparent that Kansas is looking at the Missouri River as a possible water source, state Rep. Sharon Schwartz, R-Washington, recommended "you might want to put money in our litigation fund."