The Kansas Reflector hosts opinion pieces from writers who share our goal of broadening the conversation about how public policy affects the daily lives of people across our state. Shawna Bethell is a freelance essayist / journalist covering the people and locations of Kansas, Nebraska and Missouri.
I am not a fish person. They’re not even on my radar until my nephew grabs them, cleans them, and fry them in a fabulous meal with chicks and coleslaw. However, that doesn’t mean that I don’t understand the role they play in our natural ecosystems and in the Kansas economy through the sport fishing industry. I also understand that both are at stake depending on decisions made north of our state border.
Under the Republican River Compact, Kansas is considered both an upstream and a downstream state. Born on the eastern slope of the Colorado Rocky Mountains, the Republican River flows east across the plains, tilting our northwest corner before entering Nebraska. There the river continues east until it descends back south, crossing our border again and eventually emptying into the Milford Reservoir before finally joining the Smoky Hill River at Junction City to create the Kansas River.
The 1934 pact was supposed to secure water allocations for each state crossed by the river. However, historically Colorado and Nebraska have sometimes abused their actions.
In an effort to prevent such occurrences in the future, entities affiliated with the Nebraska Water and Irrigation Districts filed in 2018 with the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources to transfer water from the Nebraska Basin. Platte River to Republican River Basin to meet allocation requirements. . The request was denied due to objections from interested parties, including those from the then-Kansas government. Jeff Colyer, who cited the negative effects of invasive species on our waterways if an inter-basin transfer were to go ahead.
The plan is not dead, however, and a revised claim has been filed. Encountered again with objections, Nebraska held a hearing in July 2021, during which it again took testimony from the parties concerned. According to agency legal counsel Emily Rose, there is no set date for a final decision.
Like her predecessor, Governor Laura Kelly is also opposed to the inter-basin transfer. According to Reeves Oyster, spokesperson for the governor: “There are too many potential impacts on the health of vital natural resources in our state.
Oyster also stated that “aAs it stands, this is an issue that must first be addressed in Nebraska. We hope our neighboring state makes the right decision, but if the transfer gains traction, we will respond and engage accordingly. “
I hope so.
“Our most pressing concerns are silver carp, bighead carp, and white perch,” wrote Chris Steffen, Nuisance Aquatic Species Coordinator at the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks. “All three species have been shown in Kansas to be incredibly damaging to the waters they invade and are located in the Platte River near the proposed diversion point.”
According to Steffen, other states that have seen an influx of these species have seen declines in their sport fish populations of more than 80%. If the species were allowed to settle in the Lovewell and Milford reservoirs, it could jeopardize the state’s $ 210,000 fishing industry. In addition to economics, changes to the river’s ecosystem could affect critical habitat for species such as the Shoal Minnow and Plains Minnow, which are already considered threatened in the state.
“Kansas Wildlife and Parks has worked diligently to prevent the spread and limit the impact of aquatic invasive species,” Steffen wrote. “This project would undermine those efforts and put our natural resources at risk. “
Last spring I traveled to Nebraska, where I spent a morning at Rowe’s Shrine in Audubon, located along the Platte. Eagles and herons hunted the shallows, while the songs of larks and red-breasted blackbirds pierced the air.
According to the Audubon website, the Platte River is also critical habitat for endangered and iconic species, including the piping plover and sandhill crane, and like the Kansas Department, they and their partners have invested heavily. to preserve the natural resources of their state. Reducing water flow through transfer would alter the ecology of nesting sites and the food sources that native and migratory birds rely on. Although the sanctuary is not located in Kansas, as residents of the plains we must recognize that the entire eco-region and its wildlife are treasures to be protected.
With this in mind, I encourage our current administration to stay informed and ready to engage as it has said. Not only for the economic benefit of the state, but for the assurance that the progress we have made thus far in preserving and protecting our natural assets will be sustained and encouraged thereafter.
Through its opinion section, the Kansas Reflector works to amplify the voices of those affected by public policy or excluded from public debate. Find information, including how to submit your own comment, here.