More details outlined during Feb. 1 meeting
■ Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of articles that will examine details of the purchase of 4,000 acres to be used for a stream augmentation project by the Upper Republican Natural Resources District (URNRD).
By Russ Pankonin
The Imperial Republican
Terry Martin of Benkelman, a long-time member of the URNRD board, said he never thought the perfect site for an augmentation project in the district would ever materialize.
“I never thought something this well suited would ever come along,” he said. Funds available from occupation taxes enabled the NRD to capitalize on the opportunity, creating a “win-win situation,” he added.
During the NRD’s Feb. 1 meeting, the board voted unanimously to purchase a 4,000-acre tract in southwest Dundy County for $10 million from FEM, Inc., a Kansas corporation owned and operated by the Winger family of Yuma, Colo.
The goal of the purchase is to retire irrigation on the 3,261 certified acres that includes 23 wells serving 24 pivots. When needed, water will be used for a stream augmentation project to help with compact compliance issues.
Opportunity came up fast
At the January, 2011 NRD meeting, the board withdrew into executive session for negotiation purposes.
Everything came to light last week when the board approved the purchase contract.
Manager Jasper Fanning noted things happened rather quickly.
Remarks during a recent water sustainability task force meeting got Fanning started thinking about the district doing their own augmentation project.
“Got some questions from folks about why would we let you come to our area and pump groundwater to make up for your depletions to stream flow. I understand that,” he said.
Fanning said the Middle and Lower Republican NRDs are looking at the same thing as the Upper to make up for their own depletions. If they have their own project, is it big enough for all of the districts, Fanning added.
“That’s why when I came back from meeting, I talked to the groundwater committee and others,” he said, “and that we should focus on an augmentation project in our district.”
Under the right conditions, and operated properly, Fanning said such a project would produce local benefits, as well.
As Fanning and board members discussed the situation, one board member noted the FEM property northwest of Parks was currently on the market.
After more consideration and discussion, Fanning said the board determined this property best fit the bill for what they wanted to do.
While the property had been on the market for some time, it happened that another offer by another party had been made.
Fanning said the NRD’s $9.5 million offer was countered at the full asking price of $10 million.
He noted the NRD could offer the seller something the new buyer couldn’t—the opportunity to lease it back to them for the 2011 crop season.
Fanning said the leasing arrangement sealed the deal.
Plans for property
Fanning said the NRD will discontinue all crop irrigation after the 2011 season.
All of the irrigated ground will be sown back to natural grasses. Fanning said they would likely use some irrigation to establish stands. Other than that, irrigation pumping will end.
The property rests near the Rock Creek, which could be used to transport augmentation flows. Pipeline will still be needed to get the water into Rock Creek.
The big question on where the flows will be released depends on the desires of the Game & Parks Commission.
They operate the Rock Creek fish hatchery from native flows of Rock Creek. If they want some or all of the water, Fanning said it would make sense to pipe it there.
The hatchery has the capability to capture what they need and release the remainder into the stream. This water goes into Rock Creek Lake, which empties into the Republican River near Parks.
Even if the G&P doesn’t take the water, flows in Rock Creek are anticipated to increase because pumping on the southern end of the tract will end, Fanning said.
Estimates from the Department of Natural Resources show pumping of wells closest to Rock Creek reduces stream flows by 35-47 percent.
By moving the pumping to the north end of the tract, that factor drops to about 20 percent, Fanning said.
He noted the north area shows promise of sustaining high volume wells. When a replacement well was drilled in 2009, test pumping showed at least 2,100 gallons per minute.
Static water is present at 68 feet below the surface with pumping from 110 feet on this well. Draw down shows to be between 30-35 feet during the irrigation season.
The well is around 250 feet, which shows good capacity for water, Fanning said.
Engineer Chris Miller of Kearney said two to three new high capacity wells could be drilled, linked together and piped to a drop point cheaper than trying to link together the existing wells.
Pumping only when needed
Fanning said the wells will only be operated for compliance purposes. Projections from DNR show the need for operating the augmentation project about a third of the time.
Net pumping will fall, Fanning said, which will aid in compliance, along with local impact near the tract.
Fanning said the NRD needs to be able to offset as much as 10,000 acre-feet of stream flow depletion with the augmentation project.
NRD to hold Q&A meetings on land
The URNRD will hold three question and answer meetings on their recent land purchase to be used for augmentation.
The meetings are all scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 17.
The first meeting that day will be held in Grant, beginning at 8:30 a.m. at the Midwest Electric headquarters, 1st and Washington Streets.
The second meeting will be held in Benkelman at 1 p.m. at the Benkelman Community Center, 908 Huron Street.
The final meeting will be held in Imperial at the URNRD office, 511 East 5th, beginning at 4:30 p.m.