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End Near For Colorado Reservoir Sending Water East

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The Bonny Dam (credit: cement.org)

The Bonny Dam (credit: cement.org)

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HALE, Colo. (AP) – An eastern Colorado reservoir popular with boaters is nearing its end as the state looks to Bonny Reservoir to send some 4 billion gallons of water to Nebraska and Kansas under a 1942 agreement among the three states to share water.

Colorado efforts to block the transfer and save Bonny Reservoir appear unlikely to prevail, with water scheduled to be released through Nebraska to Kansas after Labor Day.

The Yuma County reservoir holds the best potential to make up a water debt owed to Kansas under the Republican River Compact.

The compact collected dust for years until Kansas water officials noticed they were not getting enough water from Nebraska’s and Colorado’s portion of the river.

In 2003, Kansas won a U.S. Supreme Court battle to force Nebraska and Colorado to make up for water they reserved from the river in violation of the compact.

“We have spent four years looking for a better solution than draining Bonny,” Colorado Assistant Director for Water Alex Davis said. “It is really a tragedy that we have to take this step.”

Water has already drained from Bonny Reservoir to make up for the debt owed to Kansas, but not enough, and a drought complicated issues even more.

Davis and other Division of Natural Resources employees have considered multiple options for years to keep Bonny open and pay back Kansas; including taking water from farmers, and building a pipeline to funnel water into the Bonny Lake from the northern fork of the Republican River.

Both options have proved too costly, she said. Eastern Colorado residents are still trying to fight the plan.

“We are drying up out here,” Kirk resident Audrey Hase said. “And we are giving away our last drop!”

Hase has led an effort among business owners and residents to make a last-ditch effort to save the reservoir from draining. She even wrote Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback last month.

Brownback wrote, “We know that many Kansans and other citizens regret the draining of Bonny, which has served as a valuable recreational area for many residents of Northwest Kansas and surrounding communities for decades.”

That letter threw a wrench into negotiations about Bonny Reservoir, Colorado officials say.

“It’s given people a whole different perspective on how Kansas feels,” Colorado State Engineer Dick Wolf said. “It’s wrong. It’s not an accurate statement.”

Wolf says Kansas water engineers have not budged on proposals to keep Bonny Reservoir from being drained. Colorado officials say they have proposed keeping water in the reservoir and, in essence, giving or selling Bonny’s water rights to Kansas.

“They were not interested in pursuing that option at all,” Wolf said.

Area business owners fear the worst once the water drains.

“Of course, it’s going to put me completely out of business,” Papa’s Bait and Tackle Owner Kenneth Condrey said.

The state park where Bonny Reservoir is located will turn into a wildlife refuge. The state is also looking for someone to take control of the visitor’s center and other buildings surrounding the reservoir.

Wolf says they are also negotiating with Kansas with hopes to refill Bonny Reservoir in the future.

Still, Bonny neighbors are not giving up in the fight to save Bonny from being drained. Hase has started an online petition to Keep Bonny Open.

“We are part of this state and we have something to offer out here,” Hase told the station.

LINK: Bonny Reservoir Petition

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

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