By Russ Pankonin
The Imperial Republican
Developing plans for retiring irrigated acres in the Upper Republican Natural Resources District (URNRD) drew much of the board’s focus during their regular meeting, Nov. 2 in Imperial.
Following up discussion from last month’s meeting, the board continues to focus on two options: permanent retirement of acres that impact stream flow; and buying options for dry-year leasing of irrigated acres that affect stream flow.
Of the two options, the board favored developing plans for the permanent retirement first.
NRD Manager Jasper Fanning said there are approximately 22,000 acres in the URNRD that are within the Rapid Response Area (RRA). According to water models run by the state, these acres have the most effect on depleting stream flows.
Fanning said if they could get 10,000 acres enrolled in the permanent retirement program, that would be a good start.
Potentially, he said as many as 40,000 acres have adequate impact on stream flows and could eventually be offered for permanent retirement.
One of the unknowns, Fanning said, will be the amount of money landowners will want in a one-time payment to permanently convert irrigated acres to dryland acres.
One process under consideration would seek bids from farmers as to the amount they need to permanently retire irrigation.
Is that amount the difference between the value of irrigated ground versus dryland? Fanning said he wasn’t really sure, which is why the bidding process could be a valuable tool in establishing that value.
He said that value will be different for each operation. Those farmers nearing retirement may be more inclined to offer their ground as opposed to the farmer who’s still trying to pay for the ground.
One thing to remember, Fanning said, is that the alternative to developing retirement and augmentation programs will be regulation.
This regulation could shut down irrigation in the RRA without any compensation.
While the permanent retirement program will be the first developed, the board is also looking at developing a short-term program.
This would include farmers bidding in their ground for a one-time option payment, which would give the district a five- to 10-year option to lease the water in any given year. Suggested option payments ranged from $20-$40 per acre.
Then, if dry-year conditions are expected the following year, the district would exercise its option to lease the ground and retire the irrigation for a year.
These farmers would also receive a payment for retiring their irrigation for that year and would still have the ability to farm it under dryland conditions.
Board member Mike Mosel of Ogallala said the annual payment has to be enough to insure some profit. He said the biggest fear for farmers is getting shut down and not getting any money to make their payments.
Funding from occupation tax
Under both proposals, the occupation tax collected by the district would be used to make the payments.
Presently, the URNRD has collected $5,832,732 in occupation taxes with another $2.6 million anticipated this year.
The maximum they can assess is $10 per irrigated acre. This amount would generate about $4.4 million in revenue for funding the retirement and augmentation programs.
Mosel also noted it wouldn’t take long for the occupation tax to erode the money gained from an option.
Fanning noted those acres enrolled in the retirement programs would not pay the occupation tax.
Fanning said this week that studies continue on developing an augmentation well field in several areas of the basin.
He said they have identified two specific areas in the basin that could be pumped with little impact on the stream flows.
The compact requires any augmentation project to result in no net depletion, which means acres near the project may have to be retired.
However, Fanning said not all those acres have to come from the specific region as long as the net impact on stream flow is zero.
He said the compact administration must still approve any augmentation plan and it’s unknown whether Kansas would support such a plan. He added it’s likely to be a multi-year process.