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NRD board plans another special meeting to discuss water transfer proposals PDF Print E-mail

Special meeting is set for next Thursday, Feb. 19

■ Property tax segment ruled unconstitutional in water bill.
By Russ Pankonin
The Imperial Republican

    Members of the Upper Republican Natural Resources District (NRD) board still could not come to a consensus on how to address the issue of water transfers during their regular meeting Feb. 3.
    As a result, the board will meet in special session Thursday, Feb. 19, at the Imperial office beginning at 7:30 p.m.
    At that meeting, the board hopes to be able to forward a proposal for a public hearing and inclusion to the rules and regulations governing the NRD.
    The board has been focusing on the issue for several months after getting requests to move allocations from quick response areas to upland acres. Such a move could provide some irrigated land with a higher allocation of water.
    Members of the board’s groundwater committee have been reviewing and tweaking recommendations to bring before the full board.
    Tom Terryberry, a committee member, said the committee wants to develop some guidelines for transfers rather than a situation of “pick and choose” by the board.
    Originally, the committee considered allowing a long-distance transfer of water from the quick response areas.
    However, Terryberry said he’s getting more input that the transfer distances should be limited, perhaps to within a six-mile floating township.
    Dean Large, chair of the committee, said the guidelines now under consideration are far more conservative than what the committee originally brought forward.
    After receiving public input, Large said many favor keeping transfers to a short distance.
    Moving water allocation from quick response areas to upland areas would help reduce stream flow depletions in the district, thus aiding compliance efforts.
Current proposal
    Presently, the proposal allows for transferring allocation within a floating township (36 square miles), and capping the carryforward of the transfer at 39 inches (or three years of present annual allocation.)
    If the transfer goes beyond a floating township but not more than 12 miles, point to point, the acres must be coming from a quick response area. The transferred allocation would be reduced by 10 percent and no new acres could be irrigated.
    Carryforward would be capped at half the 39 inches or half of the existing carryforward, whichever is less.
    In addition, this transfer would also have to benefit the district by reducing stream flow depletion by a factor of 1.5 or it will not be allowed to transfer.
    The highest four years of historical use from 1998-2002 will be used to determine how many acres can be transferred.
    Board member Jeff Wallin questioned how stream flow depletions would be measured.
    Manager Jasper Fanning said they have the same data set used in compact accounting. This data is used in the “Jenkins method” model to determine stream flow depletions.
    However, Fanning said in upper reaches of tributaries the model overestimates depletions, assuming that these tributaries are wet when in actuality, they are dry.
    Fanning said that, unfortunately, this is the best data now available.
    Wallin stated that limiting the transfer to within 12 miles of a quick response area has the potential of concentrating the transfer areas. As a result, he didn’t feel the transfer distances were far enough.
    Board member Terry Martin said the public input thus far has been to limit the distance of transfers.
    He noted that if water is transferred within a floating township, it could be relocated to wet acres within a 36 square mile radius.
    If the radius of the move was set at six miles, the water could be moved anywhere within 113 square miles. If expanded to a 12 mile radius, the potential location could be anywhere within 422 square miles. That creates a lot of possiblities, Martin said.
Tomky: easiest is no transfer                
    When the board asked for further public input during the meeting, they got chastised by Jim Tomky of Amherst, Colo., who also farms family land in the URNRD.
    He told the board he was “really disappointed” that they were considering transfers at all. He added the board’s actions on the issue showed “shameful disrespect towards all irrigators.”
    He advised the board that the easiest way of dealing with transfers is “to say no to all transfers of water.”
    By using the historical use average of 1998-2002 to determine how much water is available for transfer, he feared the board is opening themselves up to another challenge from Kansas.
    Kansas wants wells within 2.5 miles of any stream or tributary in the basin shut down, he said. That could grow, he said, by opening up transfers based on historical use prior to 2002.
    “You’ve got a problem with Kansas. Don’t add to it,” he said in closing.
    Max Hoffmeister of Imperial agreed with Tomky and said the transfer issue will only generate new problems.
    Will transfers be limited to just quick response areas? Or, will they be allowed all throughout the district? Are there provisions to protect transferring into areas with an overconcentration of wells or not enough water to pump the allocation?
    Hoffmeister said those are just some of the questions that will likely arise. Plus, he said it creates a situation where a person can sell just an allocation versus the land.
District retirement program
    During next week’s special meeting, the board will also discuss a proposal for an acreage retirement program.
    Fanning said the primary purpose is to allow landowners who are not irrigating certified acres to avoid having to pay the per-acre occupation tax.
    Ground enrolled in the program would not be subject to the tax and the carryforward on the ground would be frozen at the current level. If the ground comes out of the program, the amount of frozen carryforward would be restored.
Irrigation district wants interest
    Traci Witthuhn, coordinator for the Republican River Basin Coalition formed as a result of LB 701, said the Frenchman/Cambridge irrigation district is seeking interest on the late payment for the water purchased by the coalition in 2007.
    When the property tax portion of LB 701 was challenged in court, property taxes could not be used to buy bonds to pay the district.
    Last year, the Legislature approved nearly $9 million in loan funds to the coalition to pay the surface irrigators.
    The surface district claims the coalition owes the district nearly $375,000.
    Because of possible litigation over this claim, the board went into executive session to discuss the matter. No action was taken after coming out of closed session.