In the 1970s, in an attempt to control algae blooms in wastewater treatment plants and aquaculture ponds, managers imported four species of Asian carp. Unfortunately, as is the case with many well-intentioned projects that alter ecosystems, the carp were inadvertently released or escaped during floods and quickly spread to wreak havoc in nearby waterways of the Mississippi River Basin, including our own Kansas River. Although carp are present in eastern Kansas waters, they have yet to reach some of the state’s premier fishing lakes. That could change if the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources signs a permit for the Platte-Republican diversion, which is currently under review.
I first wrote about this issue in 2021, although the history of this permit dates back to 2018, when entities affiliated with Nebraska Water and Irrigation Districts petitioned NeDNR to transfer water from the Platte River Basin to the Republican River Basin to meet requirements. requirements of a 1934 water compact between Kansas, Nebraska and Colorado. In 2018, the application was rejected due to objections from opposing parties, including the government of the day. Jeff Colyer, who wrote a letter against the plan in an effort to protect Kansas’ multimillion-dollar sportfishing industry.
Unfortunately, in 2021, a second petition ended up in the Nebraska Supreme Court. In October this year, the court issued a ruling that the parties challenging the permit had no legal standing because the water used for the diversion would only be an “overflow”, therefore not taking water from the opposing parts in the pelvis. The harm caused to these parties, the court said, was only “speculative.” According to Nebraska Public Media, “the ruling means the department can now decide for itself whether to approve the diversion plan without local groups participating in a so-called “contested case” hearing. »
But here’s what I think: When it comes to invasive species, it doesn’t matter whether the water “overflows” or not. Any water diverted from the Platte has the potential to transfer the voracious and destructive carp into Kansas waterways.
Will persistent drought lead to bad decisions?
Attempts to reach the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks for updated comment were unsuccessful. But in 2021, Chris Steffen, aquatic nuisance species coordinator for the KDWP, wrote that “invasive species are problematic in large part because of their extraordinary ability to take advantage of opportunities to spread and establish themselves in new ecosystems.” “. He also said “this project would create a new, unnatural pathway (to our waterways) that does not currently exist.”
Five years ago, officials north of the border dismissed concerns about the transfer of invasive species by saying Asian carp had not been found near the diversion point just east of North Platte , in Nebraska. But studies documenting the westward expansion of Asian carp populations in the Platte River continued throughout last summer. Since the data on where the carp were found has been verified by the US Geological Survey, it is published on a map on their website.
“This includes a bighead carp found in 2020 near the canals that will be used to transport water from the Platte River to the Republican River basin,” wrote Melissa Mosier, Platte River program manager for Great Plains Audubon. “It is reasonable to assume that the “interbasin” canal will simply facilitate the movement of this very mobile and invasive species towards the fisheries fed by the Republican River.
In 2021, Governor Laura Kelly – although concerned about our natural resources – has taken a wait-and-see stance regarding permitting. In October of this year, Brianna Johnson, spokesperson for the governor, shared the following statement: “Governor Kelly is monitoring the situation and its impact on local communities. Our agencies are discussing the impacts of the diversion plan and potential next steps.
My fear is that in the severe drought conditions we are facing, Kansas officials need water so badly that they will accept anything, no matter what comes with it. But I hope they will act instead to protect a unified ecosystem: ours and Nebraska’s.
Each spring, the Platte River basin hosts the largest migration of sandhill cranes in the world. They are joined there by endangered whooping cranes and other threatened species, the same species that stop every fall at our own Quivira National Wildlife Refuge, where tourists from across the Midwest gather to watch them arrive . The Platte needs its “overflow” to maintain habitat for our birds, and our waterways need to be free of the dangerous invasive species that inhabit the Platte River. This diversion plan is bad for everyone involved, and an alternative must be found that benefits the natural resources of both states.
Shawna Bethell is a freelance essayist and journalist covering the people and places of Kansas, Nebraska and Missouri.