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State reverses decision to limit water use in Lower Platte basin PDF Print E-mail
By Anna Jo Bratton
Associated Press Writer

    LINCOLN (AP)­—State water officials reversed a decision that would have limited water use in the Lower Platte River basin.
    Brian Dunnigan, director of the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources (DNR), said Monday the state had overestimated how much water was pumped from the river on average.
    He will issue a notice later this week that the river is not fully appropriated.
    Hundreds of farmers and others came to hearings to criticize the original ruling that the river was fully appropriated.
    Farmers feared what the restrictions would do to irrigation, and urban developers worried about the effects on new or expanding businesses.
    Representatives from nine natural resources districts (NRDs) also expressed their disapproval and commissioned a study that helped overturn the decision.
    “We’re just happy that they made the best decision based on science,’’ John Miyoshi, general manager of the Lower Platte NRD, said Monday morning.
    The NRDs’ study showed that an erroneous method was used to calculate future groundwater pumping under average climatic conditions, Dunnigan said.
    After correcting that method, Dunnigan determined that average pumping would not cause the basin to be fully appropriated.
    The designation would have limited new uses for surface and groundwater, including restricting the number of irrigated acres in the basin. Any new uses would have had to be offset by cutting use of the basin water elsewhere.
    The Lower Platte River basin has about 42,500 wells, more than half of them for irrigation.
    The designation also would have required the development of management plans involving the DNR, local natural resources districts, irrigators and others with an interest in the water.
    Dunnigan says some of those plans still will be developed for future water use.
    “We probably would be in a situation in the future of being fully appropriated if we don’t take steps to manage our water in the future,’’ Dunnigan said Monday.
    Dunnigan said it’s not clear how soon the basin might be in danger of over-appropriation. The department will complete another yearly review in December.
    Dan Stahr, executive director of the Nebraska Wildlife Federation, said he was disappointed by the state’s reversal.
    “The basin is clearly at the tipping point in terms of its water supplies and water uses,’’ he said.’’
    Stahr urged state officials to develop management plans for the Lower Platte basin. “We have seen what bad water management looks like in this state, and we are paying a heavy price for it. We need to try a proactive approach to managing our water resources for a change,’’ he said.
    Miyoshi said the NRDs are working to manage resources and set priorities for the basin.
    “At some point, our basin is going to be overappropriated, and the NRDs will accept that,’’ he said.
    Asked at a news conference whether Dunnigan’s change of heart might be seen as caving to pressure, Gov. Dave Heineman responded, “That would be a misreading of what occurred. This decision was based on sound science.’’
    A bill (LB483) in the state Legislature would help limit the number of well permits issued in the basin. Heineman said there were “a lot of good things’’ in the bill, which he said is scheduled for final-round debate later this week.

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