Governor Polis Visits Perkins Canal Site During Eastern Colorado Tour – Sterling Journal-Advocate

Colorado is waiting to see the results of a feasibility study on the Perkins County Canal, due in December, before deciding its next move.

Gov. Jared Polis told water officials, reporters and landowners on Wednesday he wanted to see what the planned study says before making public remarks on how Colorado could fight the plan. Nebraska or help irrigators replace water lost through this project.

Polis was on a 600-mile tour of northeast Colorado on Wednesday that included stops in Amherst, Burlington, Eads, Hugo and Matheson. During the tour, he stressed that his administration had seen firsthand the challenges facing farmers and ranchers, and Wednesday’s foray was intended to drive home that point.

Governor Polis while State Engineer Kevin Rein, off camera, explains the impact of the Perkins Canal on the lower South Platte River. Also pictured, far left, are Julesburg Advocate editor Vickie Sandlin, state Rep. Rod Pelton, Jim Yahn of the North Sterling and Prewitt Irrigation Companies, and Conservation District Director Joe Frank water from Lower South Platte. (Jeff Rice/Journal-Lawyer.)

In Julesburg, Polis spent more than an hour talking with water officials and others about the Perkins Canal, a proposed project that would divert water from the South Platte River near Ovid to a reservoir of storage somewhere in Nebraska.

The canal is authorized under the South Platte River Compact of 1923 and can divert up to 500 cubic feet per second from the river during the winter months. But without the canal, Nebraska cannot exercise this right to water. Canal work began in the 1890s but was abandoned due to cost. Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts revived the project in 2021, saying Nebraska needs to secure that winter water just before Colorado’s water storage projects “dry up the river.” Ricketts asked his legislature for $500 million to build it, but senators only authorized $50 million for research and design.

There are many practical obstacles to the project, not the least of which is the route of the canal. The original route is now crossed at least three times by Interstate 76, and if dug as originally planned, the route would literally lead it through the front door of the Julesburg Visitor Center.

Polis pointed out these obstacles and repeated several times that he did not see how the project could be feasible.

“We think Nebraskans will come to their senses and realize this is a big mess,” Polis said. “It is very unlikely that the project will succeed. If their approach is contradictory, we will deal with it, but there are many, many difficulties in the way of (the project.) ”

Colorado State Engineer Kevin Rein, who heads the state’s water resources division, said the canal would disrupt return flows along the 11 miles of South Platte between Ovid and the border. of State. These return flows don’t just benefit Colorado, Rein pointed out; they also drain into Nebraska.

“The water may not be there in the amounts they announced to their legislature,” Rein said.

Polis used the visit to refute a claim apparently made frequently by the Ricketts administration that Colorado routinely violates the 1923 pact by not delivering requested water.

“Colorado has never been in non-compliance since the day the pact was signed,” Polis said.

The accusation apparently stems from the fact that during particularly dry seasons there is not enough water in the river to provide the prescribed flow. The compact is, in fact, inferior to some very old and very large Brush irrigation schemes which are allowed to take water before the compact is satisfied.

The governor’s group also toured the property of Jay Goddard, who manages the Julesburg branch of Points West Community Bank. Goddard’s property sits along Interstate 76 and still contains evidence of the digging that took place in the late 1800s when the Perkins Canal was started and then abandoned. The location is one of many along I-76 where evidence of earth movement can still be seen.