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A lake on Colorado’s southeastern plains whose salinity levels at times rival those of the Great Salt Lake has residents of a small town ready to do battle with water officials over how to keep its alarmingly salty waters from reaching the Arkansas River.
The 250 or so residents of Lake Cheraw, the town that shares the lake’s name, want the lake to drain because they fear its high levels will damage their farms and homes. When lake levels rise, so do nearby water tables, seeping into basements and farm fields. Eventually that water reaches the Arkansas River.
But to drain the lake, water officials worry, would cause salinity levels in the already salt-burdened Arkansas River to rise high enough to trigger potential legal battles with the state of Kansas, which has a right to a portion of the river’s waters.
The two states’ relationship with the river and its supplies is governed by the much-litigated Arkansas River Compact and both states have spent tens of millions of dollars fighting over who gets how much of the water. The compact also dictates that water crossing the state line be “usable” for Kansas. Highly saline water is a concern because it can cause severe damage to crops.