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Bureau, FCID opposed to new NRD management plan PDF Print E-mail
Written by Wauneta Breeze   
Thursday, 26 November 2015 00:00

By Russ Pankonin

The Wauneta Breeze

The Bureau of Reclamation and the Frenchman Cambridge Irrigation District (FCID) left no doubt they oppose the new Integrated Management Plan (IMP) being proposed in the Upper Republican Natural Resources District (URNRD).

During a public hearing Tuesday, Nov. 17, on the new plan, both entities testified against the new plan. There was no other testimony offered during the hearing.

Aaron Thompson, area manager for the Bureau’s Nebraska-Kansas area office in McCook, presented their testimony.

Brad Edgerton, manager of FCID, delivered testimony on behalf of the irrigation district.

The new IMP being proposed focuses more on compact compliance through the reduction of depletion to stream flows than groundwater pumping reductions.

The current IMP focuses on compact compliance through a reduction in overall groundwater pumping in each of the NRDs in the Republican River Basin.

The first IMPs were developed after Kansas sued Nebraska over water use in the Republican. They called for a 20 percent reduction in groundwater pumping in the basin from the baseline years of 1998-2002.

The current IMP added another 1 percent per year reduction in pumping over the last five years. That took the reduction to 25 percent.

With the augmentation projects now in place to aid compliance efforts, the proposed IMP reduces the pumping reduction back to the 20 percent mark.

Both Thompson and Edgerton said relaxing that standard will negatively affect surface water irrigators and future stream flow.

They said the new IMP does nothing to “permit equity among water users and to optimize the beneficial use of inter-related groundwater and surface water” as prescribed by the Legislature.

In addition to compliance guidelines, Thompson said the IMPs being considered in the basin also need to include management practices that will improve long-term surface water supplies.

Otherwise, surface water users should be compensated if they have to forego water use to allow the state to stay in compliance.

In 2013 and 2014, the state used surface water to remain in compliance with the compact. As a result, surface water irrigators lost some or all of their water in those years.

Edgerton said his farmers were “victims of decisions necessitated by over-pumping groundwater.”

FCID has already filed suit to recover damages suffered by the loss of water those two years. Edgerton said they are leaving their options open if the proposed IMPs are adopted throughout the basin.

He warned that softening pumping standards “will put your NRD, your farmers, our irrigation district, our farmers and the state on a collision course with a damaging outcome.”

Thompson noted they too were “reserving all objections and remedies” if the proposed IMP is adopted.

Bernhardt offers response

URNRD board member Kerry Bernhardt said irrigators in the district have adopted practices and regulatory measures  to ensure that water isn’t wasted.

He said most of the ground used to be flood irrigated, with runoff going into the river. That’s changed with pivot irrigation.

He said the district has metered water use for years and instituted allocations.

The reduction of stream flow “is not all groundwater pumping,” Bernhardt said. He said conservation practices have also minimized runoff.

He also asked Edgerton how many of his users also have groundwater wells to supplement their surface water allocations. He said he didn’t know that figure.

With the additional testimony, the board delayed any action on the IMP during the meeting.

Focus shifting to depletions

URNRD Manager Jasper Fanning said the focus of the IMPs in the basin is shifting from pumping reduction to reducing depletions from pumping.

That’s the result of two major factors: augmentation projects and the accounting change won by Nebraska in the U.S. Supreme Court ruling with Kansas.

Fanning said augmentation is used strictly for compact compliance with Kansas to  cover any projected shortfalls.

Doing so will hopefully eliminate the need for the state to control surface water.

Fanning said the accounting change in the ruling also gives Nebraska an additional 10,000 acre-feet to work with.

While the district will likely not meet pumping reduction standards this year, Fanning said, it will reduce its depletions on stream flow. Theoretically, this provides more water in the streams.

The amount of pumping is now not so crucial to compliance as is reducing the amount of stream flow depletion over time, Fanning said.

The Department of Natural Resources is still requiring the new IMP to include regulatory action the district must take if it doesn’t meet compliance.

The action would require the shutdown of wells in the 10-5 rapid response areas along the streams and rivers in the district.

However, with augmentation in place, the likelihood of imposing this drastic action is unlikely, Fanning said.

In the case of non-compliance, the current IMP calls for shutting down wells in the 10-2 rapid response area, along with a one percent reduction in pumping annually.

The 10-2 area is defined as the area including wells in the alluvial where pumping would cause a 10 percent depletion in stream flow over a two-year period.

By expanding the area to the 10-5 acres (10 percent stream flow depletion over a 5-year period), the one percent reduction in pumping isn’t needed, Fanning said.

While the area includes more acres, Fanning said it eliminates the annual reduction in pumping.

The effect of shutting down wells in the 10-5 area would only add back 3,000 acre feet of water. By year three, this amount would increase to 12,000 acre feet.

Compared to the augmentation, far less benefit would result from such a regulatory move, Fanning noted. 

The proposed IMP also provides more flexibility in  the time frame of augmentation pumping to ensure compact compliance.

The board will make a decision on the new IMP at their Dec. 1 meeting which will begin at 1:30 p.m. MT in Imperial.