Republican River compliance pipeline: Project may be headed to binding arbitration

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Here’s a recap of the April 9 meeting of the Republican River Water Conservation District Board of Directors, from Tony Rayl writing for the Yuma Pioneer. From the article:

No significant progress, in regards to getting Kansas and Nebraska to approve the [compliance pipeline] project, has been made in the past few months, it was reported during the Republican River Water Conservation District Board of Directors regular quarterly meeting, last Thursday, April 9, in Yuma. A teleconference with Kansas and Nebraska is set for Tuesday, April 28, for a special RRCA meeting. Colorado will ask for approval for the proposed compact compliance pipeline. If Kansas and Nebraska reject it, as expected, Colorado will move to the arbitration stage.

If not approved, the next step would be arbitration. The system is set up so it is “non-binding” arbitration, meaning the states do not have to adhere to the ruling. It is a step taken, though, in an effort to resolve the issue without going to the U.S. Supreme Court. Colorado, though, is willing to take the pipeline to binding arbitration, meaning the arbitrator’s decision carries weight. “We have offered binding arbitration but Kansas has rejected it, at least initially,” [Alexandra Davis, the assistant director for water for the Department of Natural Resources] said. “We were willing to go to binding arbitration.”[…]

The Republican River Water Conservation District continues to lay the groundwork for the pipeline, while waiting for RRCA approval. Engineer Jim Slattery told the board last Thursday that work continues on easements, an application for a permit from the Corps of Engineers has been submitted, and the district also is dealing with a minor issue with the Colorado Ground Water Commission in regards to “co-mingling” wells. Slattery told the board he has been told bidding among contractors is still competitive due to a slowdown in projects, but it might not last much longer.

The district itself is not moving too far ahead until issues are resolved between the three states. The RRWCD is taking the stance that it developed the pipeline project on the assumption that delivering water to the North Fork would bring Colorado into compliance with the pipeline. However, Kansas asserts Colorado is not in compliance in the South Fork sub-basin, and the pipeline to the North Fork will not address that. Therefore, the district definitely wants that issue resolved, and approval from the RRCA, before building the pipeline. The RRWCD also has requested assurances from state officials that Colroado will drain Bonny Reservoir, or take other actions equivalent to draining Bonny, if Kansas is found to be correct in its interpretation of the South Fork issue.

Also, the Sandhills Groundwater Management District, where the wells for the pipeline are located, has stated it will not hold a hearing on the RRWCD’s request to export water from the management district until the RRCA has approved the augmentation plan.

A $60,000 million, 2-percent interest loan from the Colorado Water Conservation Board was approved by the Colorado Legislature last year, to the RRWCD for the pipeline. The RRWCD does not want to take the risk of borrowing that money until it is certain the pipeline is a go for all parties. Technically, the RRWCD has two years from the date of the loan contract to borrow and complete the project, according to legal representation. The CWCB staff has told the RRWCD it could obtain further time if necessary. However, in light of the budget crisis, the district would like to get going before the end of the year.

More coverage of the meeting from the Yuma Pioneer (Tony Rayl):

The water level at Bonny Reservoir continues to be an issue with the Republican River Water Conservation District. Dave Keeler, the state’s water commissioner for the Republican River Basin, gave a Bonny update to the RRWCD Board during its regular quarterly meeting, last Thursday in Yuma. He said measurements show that currently there is an extra 3,992 acre feet of storage in Bonny, which is considered “out of priority” water. As to when that water will be released, Keeler referred to State Engineer Dick Wolfe. Among the main considerations in releasing the water is the ability to maximize the amount released getting to the gage in Benkleman, Nebraska. It sounds like there will not be a release until the fall. However, there is a live stream flow in the South Fork of the Republican River reaching the Benkelman gage, and there is little irrigation right now. Board Member Eugene Bauerle said the district should consider asking the state to make a release now, since conditions are good for the water getting to the gage.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here and here.

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