At its May meeting, the Kansas Water Authority heard an update about the Kansas Aqueduct project, a 30-year old proposal to build a 360-mile aqueduct to southwest Kansas.

The water authority met in Garden City in May. One item on the lengthy agenda was the aqueduct. The idea, which a 1982 Corps of Engineers study estimated would cost $3.6 billion at that time, could bring 4 million acre feet of water to parched southwest Kansas cropland.

Water regulators in southwest Kansas earlier this year asked the state to dust off a proposed plan. The idea is to tap into Missouri River water from a point near White Cloud and send it to a proposed new reservoir in Ness County.

In response to a directive from Gov. Sam Brownback to develop a 50-year vision for water in the state, the KWA is developing a water plan, part of which includes investigating the old aqueduct idea.

Last August, the KWA authorized entering an agreement with the U.S. Corps of Engineers to update the 1982 study. The Corps has hired HDR engineers to review and update costs associated with the project.

Earl Lewis, assistant director of the Kansas Water Office, said work is ongoing toward bringing something back to the Legislature in January.

A number of key components are being worked through, he said, including how much water is available in the Missouri River that could be diverted, how much demand exists for that water, updated infrastructure costs, as well as potential legal issues and environmental impact. “We’re kind of moving through the issues in that order,” he said.

Mark Rude, executive director of Groundwater Management District 3, said the aqueduct idea is a conversation worth having.

“There’s a market for that water,” he said. “There’s certainly a broader market out there beyond the corner store we’re operating under the current water marketing program. That’s that whole concept about moving water around.”

Rude said there’s a lot of value to that water – if it can be brought to the market – and that’s what the aqueduct concept sets out to do. “It’s not only trying to get the value of the water supply, but it’s showing that you can continue to grow communities and the economy for the state in the future,” he said.

Rude said many conversations, public and private, are going on about water throughout the U.S. He pointed to the Central Arizona Project to provide some perspective for Kansas.

Started in 1973, the Central Arizona Project consists of a 336-mile-long system of aqueducts that brings about 1.5 million acre feet of Colorado River water to Arizona. According to a short video Rude showed, the CAP has provided an estimated $1 trillion of economic benefit to Arizona’s gross state product between 1986 and 2010.

Rude said Arizona obviously has totally different demographics than Kansas, but it’s something to keep in mind. “The concept of moving water around is a bigger deal. When we get to this legislative session, we won’t have all those questions answered. We need to keep the conversation going,” he said.

Others are looking at ways to move water around, as well. The KWA invited Gary Hausler, a retired mining engineer and rancher from Gunnison, Colorado, to share his idea for piping Mississippi River water west across Kansas to provide needed water for front-range cities like Denver and Colorado Springs.

For nearly a decade, Hausler has been pitching the idea that Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri should form an interstate compact and build a 1,200-mile-long water pipe from a point on the Mississippi River below Cairo, Illinois, to Monument Hill in Colorado, which is about midway between Denver and Colorado Springs.

Hausler said the Colorado water community is split into two factions centered along the Continental Divide with those on the western slope, which has the most water in the state, pitted against those on the eastern slope, which has the most people. “Therefore, they have most of the power,” Hausler said.

Traditionally, Colorado has looked at the western slope as an inexhaustible supply of natural resources, including water. But he believes, and he said studies have shown, the Colorado River and basin water supply are being overstretched now and won’t be able to meet future demand in the next 30 to 50 years.

“My assertion is there’s not enough water there to be had,” Hausler said.

Hausler said that according to Corps of Engineers data, about 2 million acre feet per day of Mississippi River water flows past Hickman, Kentucky, during the annual 10-day spring run-off. “That’s 20 million acre feet in 10 days, which is more than the entire Colorado River flows in a year,” he said.

The Mississippi River averages 240 million acre feet of flow a year. Hausler has proposed capturing just 1 percent of the river’s flow and sending it west. He estimates the total cost to build, including lift stations and property acquisition, at around $24.3 billion. It would take 25 to 30 years to build. “That’s $24,300 per acre foot of new water delivered to the eastern slope of Colorado. That is very, very competitive to what it’s costing the water authorities to provide new water (to western states),” he said.

Lewis said he felt Hausler’s presentation would provide an example of other major water projects being talked about in several other states. “While this is about what he’s been thinking about primarily for Colorado, it could have some implications for us here in Kansas as well,” he said.

Scott Aust is with The Garden City Telegram.

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