By Russ Pankonin, The Imperial Republican
Development of a pair of augmentation projects to help Nebraska stay in compact compliance drew its fair share of critics and doubters. After a year of operation of the Rock Creek project, the value of these projects become almost immeasurable.
Sure, there are still those who say these projects should have never happened. But the truth is that without the operation of these projects, it’s likely the wells that irrigate more than 100,000 acres in the Republican River Basin would be shut down.
Can you imagine what an economic blow that would be to this region?
The economy in Southwest and Central Nebraska revolves around the ag industry with tentacles that stretch far and wide. And, the use of groundwater for irrigation represents a major factor leading to the success of agricultural.
Since the 1990s, Nebraska has been dealing with claims from Kansas that our state uses more than its fair share of water in the Republican basin.
In mid-2003, a settlement between Nebraska, Kansas and Colorado outlined what each state must do to remain in compliance with a 1943 water compact amongst the states.
That meant Nebraska had to keep closer tabs on their water use in the basin to insure the state remained in compliance. Due to the drought years of the early to mid 2000s, the state fell out of compliance in 2006. This resulted in further efforts to curtail water use in the basin.
Obviously, the worst case scenario would be for all groundwater wells in the basin to be shut down. In further litigation, Kansas wanted wells irrigating more than 365,000 acres in the basin shut down. Fortunately they couldn’t make a case for such action in front of a special water master.
Still, Nebraska had to find ways to make up for streamflow depletions in the basin caused by groundwater pumping. Despite recent drought conditions, Nebraska remained in compliance with Kansas for 2012-13.
However, if Nebraska is to remain in compliance for 2013-14, the basin will have to make up streamflow deficits of more than 40,000 acre-feet. Without augmentation projects in place, it would certainly mean the shut off of all wells in the rapid response area throughout the basin, amounting to 100,000 acres. Plus, additional measures would still be needed.
Kudos to the Upper Republican Natural Resources District board and management for the foresight to create the Rock Creek project in Southwest Dundy County. As a result of pumping from the project in its first year, the district surpassed the amount needed to offset streamflow depletion for 2012-2013.
The Rock Creek project is capable of pumping 14,000 acre-feet of water that can be used toward compliance with Kansas.
Again, kudos to the basin NRDs and the Twin Platte NRD for joining forces to create an even bigger augmentation project in Lincoln County east of Wallace.
This field has the capability of pumping 60,000 acre-feet of water per year, of which the state gets 54 percent credit of each acre-foot towards compliance.
With the combination of the two augmentation projects, Nebraska will be able to generate enough offset of streamflow depletions in 2013 and 2014 to keep Nebraska in compliance. That keeps our ag economy strong, as well.
Without these two projects, the future for the basin would be awfully bleak. Hats off to those who had the foresight to address the compliance issue in this manner. It’s proving to be a wise, wise decision.