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A new twist in an old contention

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Ed Quillen | Sep 09, 2010 11:30 AM

For more than a century -- the first court case was filed in 1901 -- Kansas and Colorado have fought over the Arkansas River, with Kansas claiming that Colorado keeps too much of its water.
Now there's a new twist in the long dispute. (The two states can't even agree on how to pronounce the river's name. It's "Ar-kan-saw" in Colorado and "Our-Kanz-us" across the state line.)

Sunflower Electric plans to build a new coal-fired electrical generating plant in southwestern Kansas. It will consume 3.9 billion gallons of water a year. But most of the electricity it generates will go to Colorado.
Critics charge that in effect, this is exporting water to Colorado, since Kansas water gets consumed to produce something consumed in Colorado. And that doesn't seem right, given the years of Kansas litigation to get water from Colorado.

Others point out that even if the water remained in agriculture, it would effectively be exported to other states where the products are consumed. I ran some numbers on this last year. A farm-fresh potato is about 80 percent water, so a ton of potatoes contains about 200 gallons.  Every 700-pound yearling steer that leaves my county, and most of them do, is 65 percent water. 

So maybe there's no way around the persistent truth that the two major exports from rural areas are smart kids and water -- either flowing, used to make electricity, or contained inside potato skins and cattle hides. 

Ed Quillen is a freelance writer in Salida, Colorado.

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