JOHN MILBURN Associated Press
TOPEKA - Kansas water officials said Tuesday they were moving forward with plans to determine the feasibility of building a 360-mile aqueduct to tap the Missouri River to support agriculture in western parts of the state.
Tracy Streeter, director of the Kansas Water Office, told legislators the study would begin next year and take about 18 months to complete. Officials envision diverting as much as 4 million acre feet of water and sending it west to help support irrigated farming of corn and other crops.
Streeter said it's likely other states will try to allocate some of the Missouri's flow in coming years. The river begins in Montana and travels through North Dakota and South Dakota, and along the borders of Iowa, Nebraska, Missouri and Kansas. After it reaches the Kansas City area, the river moves east to St. Louis, where it meets up with the Mississippi.
"There probably will be a play on the river. Kansas may want to be part of it," he said.
How much the aqueduct would cost is to be determined. A study in 1982 pegged the price at $3.6 billion to construct a system beginning near White Cloud near the Nebraska border and terminating near Utica in the west.
Kansas does not have a compact with other states regarding use of the Missouri River.
State Rep. Sharon Schwartz, a Washington Republican, said she had concerns about the project in future years and how farmers would pay for using the water if grain prices fell and they couldn't afford to use the water. She also questioned the legal bills that could ensue if other states sue to block Kansas' access to the water.
"I start to think about this and probably the devil will be in the details," she said. "It's important to look at all options. I'll try to keep my mind open."
Streeter said the goal would to do little or no harm to states downstream that rely on the Missouri River for navigation, including those along the Mississippi.
Kansas farmers currently rely on the Ogallala Aquifer, which sustains agriculture and municipal water needs throughout the Great Plains region. However, Mark Rude, executive director of the Groundwater Management District No. 3 in southwest Kansas, said the current use of the Ogallala for agriculture was unsustainable to maintain existing farming activities. He estimated that every acre of irrigated land taken out of production cost the state economy $3,911.