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Aqueduct booster wants Missouri water rights reserved





Mark Rude is all too happy to talk about the idea of moving water from the Missouri River to southwest Kansas to virtually anyone who will listen.

On Wednesday, he'll appear before a legislative finance committee, where he will lay out the idea for the panel, and then top it off by asking legislators to "reserve" 4 million acre feet of water from the Missouri River.

The idea of reserving Kansas rights to the river water is less onerous than filing a presumptuous appropriations claim, he said, which, might interfere with the multitude of discussions that must take place before the project can move forward -- if it moves forward at all.

Rude, executive director of Southwest Kansas Groundwater Management District No. 3, is an ardent proponent of the dusted-off 1982 Corps of Engineers proposal to send Missouri River water west in a massive aqueduct.

Essentially, the idea is to siphon Missouri River water during high river flow, storing it in a reservoir near White Cloud before sending it 360 miles downstream to another as-yet constructed reservoir near Utica.

The Kansas Water Office, with financial help from both the Corps and the groundwater district, is looking at hiring an engineering firm to see if the project still is feasible and what the cost might be.

The Corps, with $75,000 in cash from KWO and the GMD, and matching federal money, soon should select the engineering firm, said KWO Assistant Director Earl Lewis. The Corps will contribute approximately $150,000 to the project study.

"They're going to do that," he said of the Corps selecting a firm from among a list of pre-approved firms. "Hopefully pretty quickly."

Lewis said he hopes the study will be done in a year.

Preliminary estimates from KWO, Rude said, range from $12 billion to $20 billion to build the project. An Arizona pipeline project spanning more than 300 miles was estimated at $15 billion.

Currently, irrigators in the southwest Kansas GMD uses approximately 2 million acre-feet of water, about half what Rude is suggesting the legislators might want to reserve.

Rude's presentation Wednesday afternoon will be before the House agriculture budget committee.

He's long said the state or the GMD should take measures to ensure the aqueduct project will be first in line for the water. As a prior appropriation state, Kansas subscribes to the idea of first-in-time, first-in-right when it comes to standing for the use of water.

By reserving the water, he said, "that would allow the process to continue."

Water reservations are part of a law allowing the Kansas Water Office to speak for a specific amount of water in a reservoir. State officials, so far, haven't been keen on the idea of filing an appropriation for the water.

The reservation would be for water in the Missouri flowing within the state's borders, and a result wouldn't be binding on people in other states.

Already, there's been concern voiced by other states about the idea of Kansas tapping into the Missouri River water supply.

The 4 million acre-feet being proposed for reservation is the amount listed in the 1982 Corps study, Rude said.

"Four million acre-feet seems to be a legitimate number," he said.