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Kansas aqueduct project faces problems

Monday, December 2, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CST

TOPEKA, Kan. — Aside from the potentially billions of dollars it could cost to divert water from the Missouri River to western Kansas, the negotiations among interested parties would make such an infrastructure project a daunting task.

States along the river depend on water for agriculture, industry, municipalities and navigation, beginning at the headwaters in Montana and extending to the confluence with the Mississippi at St. Louis. Officials say getting all those interests to sign off on a project to that would divert 4 million acre feet of water for western Kansas will take time and effort.

John Grothaus, chief of plans formulation for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said that despite potential challenges to a project the size of the Kansas aqueduct, it was good to consider new ideas.

"It's a complicated system to operate for and serve all constituents up and down the system. Water problems are not getting any easier across the county," Grothaus said. "The hurdles on something like this can be pretty high, to say the least."

The study will update one completed in 1982 that proposed building a 360-mile aqueduct from near White Cloud in northeast Kansas to a location near Utica in western Kansas. The cost was pegged at $3.6 billion to build the system, which would include pumping stations and collection reservoirs.

"The cost in and of itself is not going to be insignificant," Grothaus said.

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback has made water policy a focal point of his administration since taking office in 2011 while the state was in the throes of a severe drought. He convinced legislators to approve new water restrictions that sought to promote conservation in western Kansas and extend the life of the Ogallala Aquifer while sustaining a multibillion dollar agriculture industry. An advisory committee, along with the Kansas Water Office and other related agencies, are developing a 50-year vision for extending the life of the aquifer.

"Water is not a limitless resource and it is important that we engage in discussion now on how to manage water resources for the region and in Kansas," the governor said Wednesday. "As part of our due diligence in looking at how the region can protect water resources, we are looking at a wide range of possibilities including the Kansas Water Office study on the Missouri River basin."

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon has already let Brownback and Kansas know his state doesn't like the idea. He'd like to talk with Brownback about future use of the river but said in a letter to Kansas that neither state was "well-served" by a diversion project.

"The Missouri River is a resource that is vital to Missouri's way of life and our economy," Nixon said. "We have worked for many years, and fought many legal battles, to ensure that 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."

The river begins in Montana and travels through North Dakota and South Dakota, and along the borders of Iowa, Nebraska, Missouri and Kansas. After it reaches the Kansas City area, the river moves east to St. Louis, where it meets up with the Mississippi.

Kansas has a compact with Colorado over use of the Arkansas River and another with Nebraska over water flowing from the Republican River, both set levels for stream flow that must be maintained for states to be in compliance. Kansas has taken both states to court to enforce the compacts. No such compact exists that allocates Missouri River water.


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