The Republican River Basin

After years of drought and a flood in 1935, Colorado, Nebraska and Kansas settled a compact for the Republican River Basin. Now, those States are working to comply with that agreement.

For farmers like Mark Taddiken, irrigated fields mean more crops, more money. But he’s concerned about the amount of water he can use.

Origin

The Republican River flows from eastern Colorado through western Nebraska and northwest Kansas into Kansas. On May 30, 1935, during one of the worst droughts the Great Plains has ever seen, torrential rains fell and a flood swept through the river. It has been called “Nebraska’s Deadliest Flood.”

The river’s two main forks – the North Fork Republican and the South Fork Republican – converge at Haigler in Dundy County. From there, the Republican River flows generally east along the southern border of Nebraska, into Swanson Reservoir and then Harlan County Reservoir before bending southeast and mingling with the Smoky Hill River near Junction City in Kansas.

The Republican River has many tributaries. Among the most important are Arickaree River and Whiteman’s Creek of Colorado, Redwillow Creek of Nebraska and Beaver, Sappa, and Prairie Dog creeks of Kansas.

Flow

The Republican River rises along two forks in eastern Colorado and flows 453 miles through Nebraska and Kansas. It is joined by a number of major tributaries, including the North and South Forks, Arikaree River, Whiteman’s Creek and Redwillow Creek in Colorado, and the Beaver, Medicine, Deer and Muddy Creeks in Kansas.

The topographic map evidence presented in the detailed essays linked to on this page suggests that Republican River tributary valley headward erosion progressively beheaded southeast-oriented flood flow routes, creating what is now a significant anastomosing channel complex. The Republican River and its tributary valleys then shifted east as Rocky Mountain uplift caused massive flood flow reversals across the region. These reversals eroded deeper east-oriented tributary valleys and diverted massive south and southeast-oriented flood flow.

Streambed

The detailed essays found under Republican River on this website’s sidebar category list use topographic map evidence to interpret landform formations that caused the Republican River to have its present drainage basin. These essays also show that the Republican River has numerous tributary streams with southeast-oriented flow.

In some locations the Republican River is a gaining stream, one that seeps groundwater from alluvial and surficial aquifers into its riverbed. Allocation formulas that exclude this groundwater can lead to problems unless water pumping from these aquifers is carefully controlled.

The Republican River confluences with the North Fork Republican River and the South Fork of the Arikaree River near Haigler, Nebraska. This confluence is just north of the Nebraska state line. Other tributary streams of the Republican River originate in northeast Colorado and flow in a northeast direction across the Kansas northwest corner into southwest Nebraska.

Dams

A significant number of dams are found along the Republican River and its tributaries. They were built for flood control, irrigation, and recreational purposes. The largest is the Harlan County Dam near Alma, Nebraska. It forms Swanson Reservoir. Releases from the dam join the east-oriented Smoky Hill River at Junction City, Kansas.

The Republican and its tributaries drain the northeast corner of Colorado into northwest Kansas and southwest Nebraska. The Republican and its tributaries are a vital source of water for both Kansas and Nebraska. The 1998 lawsuit and Final Settlement Stipulation resulted in significant changes in water administration between the two states. The agreement was reaffirmed in 2015. Nevertheless, conflicts remain regarding the water use of the river. Specifically, there are disputes over the amount of water that Nebraska can draw from the river.

Recreation

The Republican River provides natural beauty, life for crops and wildlife as well as recreational opportunities. There are many camping, fishing, kayaking and hunting areas along the Republican. Southwest Nebraska is known for pheasant and deer hunting.

The river begins in the High Plains of eastern Colorado and flows east through northwest Kansas and Southwest Nebraska. It then curves southeast into Kansas and joins the Smoky Hill River near Junction City to form the Kansas River.

The Republican River provides opportunities for recreation year round. Rock Creek Lake and Enders Reservoir are within a short drive of Benkelman and provide camping, boating, swimming, skiing and fishing. The Republican River also offers waterfowl hunting. Dundy County is also home to three state lakes – Swanson, Harlan and Lovewell – all offering a variety of recreation opportunities.

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