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For Upper Republican NRD, 2011 marked by large projects PDF Print E-mail
Written by Wauneta Breeze   
Friday, 30 December 2011 20:06

By Jasper Fanning

Upper Republican NRD

 

The Upper Republican NRD this year made big investments in projects that should produce significant, long-term payoffs for agricultural and natural resources throughout our region.

It was a year to remember, both for the tangible benefits that the projects will have for our region, and what the willingness to initiate them says about the people in our district of Perkins, Chase and Dundy Counties.

Our residents and board again exemplified the type of foresight and progressiveness that has given our NRD a reputation as a leader in water management.

As irrigated-land owners know, the strides made this year aren’t cheap. They’ll be paying $10 an irrigated acre in occupation tax, a revenue source that gained some long-range reliability in September when the state Supreme Court upheld it as constitutional.

So what are residents of the district getting for their money?

 

Augmentation

Early this year, the NRD purchased about 4,000 acres, 3,260 of them irrigated, in Dundy County near the headwaters of Rock Creek. The land and improvements were purchased for $10 million by the NRD.

By retiring the 24 circles from irrigated production, groundwater that otherwise would have been used for irrigation will instead be used to increase Republican River flows. This will help the NRD fulfill its obligations to help the state stay in compliance with the Republican River Compact settlement agreement between Nebraska, Kansas and Colorado.

The project has the potential to generate 9,000-10,000 acre feet of water every three years or so. If it is formally approved by the three states, Nebraska will get credit for all of the augmentation water; if it is not formally approved as an augmentation project, the NRD and Nebraska will still get credit for more than 69 percent of the augmentation water, a substantial benefit.

To put the amount of water the project has the capability to produce in perspective, 10,000 acre feet is roughly equal to the total amount of water by which the NRD exceeded its annual, allowable depletions to stream flow from groundwater pumping during the worst of the drought years of the early 2000s.

Using the augmentation project to help keep the NRD from exceeding its portion of allowable depletions to stream flow caused by groundwater pumping should greatly reduce chances that the NRD will have to use the last-resort, backstop option of sharply reducing or shutting down irrigation near the Republican and its tributaries to maintain compact compliance during dry times.

At least four miles of pipe will have to be constructed to deliver the augmentation water from wells on the northern part of the purchased property to Rock Creek, which joins the north fork of the Republican near Parks.

Total project costs are expected to be $13 million to $15 million and it should be completed next year. A primary reason the board raised the occupation tax to $10 per irrigated acre was so the augmentation project could be paid off within a couple years and at a time when the agricultural economy has been strong.

 

Irrigation retirement

The NRD committed about $1.9 million to permanently retire irrigated acres in the district that have significant impacts on stream flow. The voluntary program was made possible by a $1.2 million contribution from the Natural Resources Conservation Service, which chose to partner with the NRD on an Agricultural Water Enhancement Program (AWEP).

Even at a time of high grain prices, there was significant interest in the program. About 40 landowners in the district applied, and about a dozen were accepted.

All told, about 1,360 certified irrigated acres were permanently retired in the district under the program. The average, per-acre payment from the NRD was about $1,400; NRCS contributed $950 an acre.

Getting the most benefit from the available funds was a top priority of the NRD and NRCS.

The aim was to generate the most stream flow possible from retiring the acres, to help the district maintain compact compliance. To do so, both the pumping history and hydrologic connection of wells to the stream were considered when ranking applicants.

The ranking and funding formula seemed to work: the acres that were retired had been irrigated, on average, with nearly 11 inches of water a year and have an average, 50-year stream flow depletion factor (SDF) of 88 percent. An SDF is the percentage of water pumped over a defined time period that would have resulted in stream flow had it not been pumped.

Typically, the closer a well is to a stream, the higher the SDF, with 88 percent considered a very high SDF.

How many more acres are retired in the future will partially depend upon how much more federal money is allocated for the retirement program in the NRD.

It should be noted that the NRD doesn’t plan on retiring huge numbers of acres in the district; doing so is cost prohibitive and other tools can be used to help maintain compact compliance. Used in tandem with the augmentation project and gradual reductions in water consumption, irrigation retirement can be moderately used to help the district.

Regarding district-wide water consumption, the district shall continue to adopt water-conserving allocations that will adjust with time and technology to conserve our water resources ensuring a viable water supply for generations to come.

Please feel free to call the office if you have any questions about projects and rules at the NRD. We’re here to help and look forward to another year of working on behalf of residents in the district.

Last Updated on Friday, 30 December 2011 20:07