By Russ Pankonin
The Imperial Republican
The mission of a newly-formed water alliance group centers on using a water balance approach to identify and help improve water management potential, opportunity, effectiveness and sustainability in Nebraska.
Members of the new Nebraska Water Balance Alliance include farmers, water users and electric utilities who are concerned about the future of water use.
They believe that the state’s water resources comprehensively will lead to new opportunities for how, when and where water could be conserved and managed.
Ted Tietjen of Grant serves as one of the alliance’s directors.
He said organizers have been working on forming the alliance since last fall.
Tietjen said the water balance approach represents another option to help achieve compact compliance in the Republican Basin and address other water issues throughout the state.
In the Republican Basin, Tietjen said nearly all of the water in the streams comes as a result of precipitation.
He said water balance is calculated by taking the annual precipitation for a region and then subtracting water use for growing crops and water lost due to evaporation.
He said research shows evaporation accounts for 30 percent of the water use, or in this case, water loss.
At the height of the drought in 2006, Perkins County recorded just 18.77 inches of precipitation.
Based on a 200-bushel corn crop, water use to grow that crop totalled 25 inches. That represents an imbalance of 6.3 inches, he said.
When the drought broke in 2007, Perkins County received 35.5 inches, which represented an excess of 10 inches in the water balance model.
He said no-till or strip till can conserve up to four inches of water in a crop season.
One tool is to look at cropping rotations during water-short years, such as using shorter-season corn varieties or crops with a shorter maturity cycle.
He added the reduction of invasive species, such as salt cedar, could make a significant impact on overall water supply and water balance.
He said the water balance model is not the “silver bullet,” noting that overall consumption may still need to be cut going forward.
He believes this approach offers a cost effective solution so that local economies aren’t damaged and actually have potential for improvement.
The water balance concept has been around for years, Tietjen said, but has never been implemented.
He said the augmentation project being planned by the Upper Republican Natural Resources District could buy some time for a water balance model to be implemented.
To learn more about the alliance, people can go to their new website, www.nebraskawaterbalance.com.