Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Proponent of Kansas Aqueduct project pushes plan before Legislature

By SCOTT ROTHSCHILD, The Lawrence Journal-World

TOPEKA — Proponents of a 360-mile long canal from the northeast tip of Kansas to western Kansas that would draw water from the Missouri River to replenish the Ogallala Aquifer were pushing their project in the Statehouse last week.

The state is updating a 1982 study by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that pegged the cost of the Kansas Aqueduct project then at $4.4 billion to build and $475 million per year to maintain.

Mark Rude, executive director of the Southwest Kansas Groundwater Management District No. 3, said his area needs the water because it pumps about 2 million acre feet of water per year for irrigation and the Ogallala Aquifer receives about 200,000 acre feet of water per year in recharge.

"We can't keep this up," Rude told members of the House Natural Resources budget committee. An acre foot of water is the amount of water that will cover one acre of surface to the depth of one foot. It equals 325,853 gallons.

Missouri officials, however, have told Kansas to back off proposals to take water from the Missouri River.

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon wrote Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback in November, saying, "We have worked for many years, and fought many legal battles, to ensure the River is managed properly. Thoughtful and reasoned discussion and cooperation, rather than unilateral plans for massive diversions, must be the guiding forces in planning for the River's use."

But Rude said about 29.5 million acre feet of water flows in the river annually near White Cloud, Kansas, and the Kansas Aqueduct project would divert 4 million acre feet per year.

"It's not picking a fight," Rude said of the project. "It's not being un-neighborly."

Through a series of lift stations, the water would flow through a canal about 23 feet deep and 137 feet across. Rude described it as a lazy river going through the Flint Hills and then heading west.

State Rep. Kyle Hoffman, R-Coldwater, said the briefing will spur a lot of questions. "It gives us some things to think about," he said.

Once the cost of the project is updated, it should be compared with the cost to the southwest Kansas economy of not bringing the water to western Kansas, Rude said. "The water will have an expense whether we take action or not," he said.