Government & Politics

Kansas aqueduct cost is pegged at $18 billion

Torrents of water roared through the Gavins Point Dam just outside Yankton, South Dakota, as the Corps of Engineers tried to keep pace with the amount of water generated by a particularly wet season. A proposal to divert water from Missouri downstream from such dams — for irrigation rather than flood control — would cost billions.
Torrents of water roared through the Gavins Point Dam just outside Yankton, South Dakota, as the Corps of Engineers tried to keep pace with the amount of water generated by a particularly wet season. A proposal to divert water from Missouri downstream from such dams — for irrigation rather than flood control — would cost billions. The Kansas City Star

It would cost more than $18 billion to build and finance a canal to pump water from the Missouri River to parched areas in southwest Kansas, engineers have concluded.

A study conducted in part by the Army Corps of Engineers also says the proposed Kansas Aqueduct would cost more than $400 million a year to operate and maintain.

Those estimates are part of a draft report posted on the website of the Kansas Water Office.

The idea of storing excess Missouri River water in northeast Kansas, then pumping it hundreds of miles west, has been under discussion since the early 1980s. Farmers and ranchers facing rapid depletion of underground water sources have argued Kansas should claim more of the river’s water.

But environmentalists and other Missouri River states have fiercely resisted the idea. They say a big trans-Kansas water canal would cost too much to build and take too much water — without solving the drought problem in the western part of the state.

Kansas officials nevertheless asked the corps to update its 1982 study of the aqueduct’s cost. The online draft report, dated Jan. 9, is a summary of that update.

The summary does not address the feasibility of the project or its merits.

Instead, it says the most cost-efficient canal — a 360-mile concrete ditch with 15 pumping stations — might eventually deliver enough water to allow a western Kansas storage reservoir to deliver 3.4 million acre-feet of water a year.

An acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover one acre of land to a depth of one foot, about 326,000 gallons.

The pumps are needed because the preferred western Kansas terminal reservoir would be 1,745 feet higher than the Missouri River.

The draft report assumes a 20-year construction timetable, but it doesn’t include the cost of mitigating any environmental impact. The $18 billion estimate includes interest on construction loans.

Ongoing interest costs, it found, could add $600 million annually to the operating costs, bringing the total yearly price tag for running the canal to $1 billion.

The study reviews the legal, environmental and political tangles surrounding the proposal. It says the state might want to create a separate entity to oversee the project and clear numerous technical hurdles before it proceeds.

“Many topics were raised during the course of this study that would need to be addressed if a project of this nature were to move forward,” the draft says.

Among the thorniest issues: “Reasonably adequate provisions must be made for local crossings of the aqueduct for individual landowners who need to get to town or access their property on the other side of the aqueduct.”

The report does not say where the money might come from to build the canal. Corps officials have said they’re already facing a major backlog in flood control and harbor projects and would find it difficult to pay for the aqueduct plan unless Congress intervenes.

Kansas also faces budget headaches and would almost certainly be unable to bear the cost of the project.

A spokeswoman for the Kansas Water Office said the final version of the full report will be discussed Jan. 29 at a meeting of the Kansas Water Authority.

To reach Dave Helling, call 816-234-4656 or send email to dhelling@kcstar.com.

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