Audubon Objects to Platte-Republican Diversion Proposal

5. Januar 2021 17:10 ·

Turkey Creek canyon, above, would carry water from a canal off the Platte River to the Republican River (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)

Listen To This Story

A conservation group says a proposal to divert water from the Platte River to the Republican River would harm the environment, birds, and people.

Criticism of the proposed Platte-Republican diversion proposal comes in a filing by the conservation group Audubon Nebraska with the state Department of Natural Resources. That’s the department deciding whether to approve the proposal to take water from an irrigation canal fed by the Platte River in central Nebraska and pipe it into a creek that feeds the Republican River in southern Nebraska.

The idea is to avoid water shortages in the Republican, from which Nebraska has to send a certain amount of water across the state line into Kansas to meet the requirements of an interstate compact. Failure to meet those requirements can result in financial penalties and tighter controls over water in the Republican basin.

But Audubon Nebraska’s Platte River Program Manager Melissa Mosier said considering the demands for water, the tradeoff’s not worth it.

“Complying with the Republican River compact is definitely in the public interest. But taking water from one fully appropriated basin and putting it into another fully appropriated basin is kind of doing a disservice for the water users and the wildlife in both basins,” Mosier said.

Mosier said more years than not, flows in the Platte fall short of the goals set by an interstate agreement. And she says even when the flows exceed what’s legally claimed by farmers and others, there are still benefits to keeping those flows in the Platte.

“They provide habitat benefits, they provide groundwater recharge for our aquifers that our irrigators use, that our public drinking water systems use in times of drought,” she said.

But John Thorburn, manager of the Tri-Basin Natural Resources District, which supports the diversion proposal, said it would respect all existing and future legal claims to Platte River water, including those of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on behalf of endangered species.

Thorburn argued the proposal seeks to exercise legal rights that go beyond the environmental considerations cited by Audubon.

“They’re entitled to their opinion about what’s appropriate in terms of water flowing down the Platte, but this is a legal proceeding and we’re doing what we think is legally possible,” Thorburn said.

Whatever the Department of Natural Resources decides on the project, the issue is likely to end up in court.