Jan. 17 important deadline for Stewardship Program
Nebraska landowners and operators have until Jan. 17, 2014, to sign up for the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) at a local USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) office.
CSP is a voluntary program that provides financial and technical assistance to help farmers and ranchers conserve and enhance soil, water, air and related natural resources on their agricultural and forestry land.
CSP applications are accepted at any time. However, only applications received by the Jan. 17 cutoff date will be considered for the current ranking and funding period.
Craig Derickson, NRCS state conservationist, encourages Nebraska farmers and ranchers to not miss out on this opportunity.
“The Conservation Stewardship Program is unique. CSP participants will receive an annual land use payment for the environmental benefits they produce on their operations. Under CSP, participants are paid for conservation performance - the higher the operational performance, the higher their payment,” Derickson said.
According to Derickson, CSP has been a very successful program for Nebraska’s farmers and ranchers. Over 2,000 CSP contracts occur in all 93 counties and cover 4.8 million acres in Nebraska.
“CSP is popular in Nebraska because farmers and ranchers don’t have to take land out of production to participate. CSP helps conserve natural resources on working lands, ” Derickson said.
CSP is available statewide to individual landowners, legal entities and Indian tribes.
Eligible land includes cropland, grassland, prairie, improved pastureland, non-industrial private forestland and agricultural land under the jurisdiction of an Indian tribe.
Contracts are set at five years and include all the land controlled by an operator.
For more information about CSP, including eligibility requirements and a self-screening checklist, producers can visit www.ne.nrcs.usda.gov/programs/CSP.html or stop by a local NRCS field office.
FVC purchases Bart’s Corner
By Carolyn Lee
The Imperial Republican
Frenchman Valley Coop (FVC) will operate gas pumps at the former Bart’s Corner in Imperial, with the possibility of opening a convenience store on the site.
FVC purchased the property at the corner of Highways 6 and 61 several weeks ago.
FVC Manager Doug Ohlson said it will take a “good 60 days” to get the existing gas pumps up and running. “The works of the pumps need to be updated and software installed,” he explained.
The pumps will be run by credit card for now, Ohlson said. “If we get to the point we open a convenience store, then customers can walk in with cash,” he added.
“Our first focus is getting the pumps updated and in service. We need to clean it up out there,” Olson said.
The manager said FVC purchased the property because although FVC already has pumps and a convenience store on Broadway, “It’s just a little more convenient for truck traffic out there. It’s a pretty visible corner for Imperial, with lots of traffic out there.”
Bart’s Corner, owned by Southwind Six Bar Six LLC, opened in August 2011 and closed early in 2013.
NRDs praise Nebraska officials on Special Master Report
■ Colorado gets ruling on its arbitration with Kansas. PAGE A9.
■ DNR is forecasting another compact call year for compliance. PAGE 1.
■ Editor’s note: The NARD is the trade association for Nebraska’s 23 natural resources districts. The NRDs are local government entities with broad responsibilities to protect natural resources. Major Nebraska river basins form the boundaries of the 23 NRDs, enabling districts to respond best to local conservation and resource management needs.
The Republican Basin Natural Resources Districts (NRDs) and the Nebraska Association of Resources Districts (NARD) remain encouraged by the recommendations issued recently by Special Master William J. Kayatta on the Republican River case.
Further, recently released results of non-binding arbitration related to an augmentation project in the Upper Republican NRD also represented favorable results for Nebraska.
Dean Edson, NARD executive director, said Gov. Dave Heineman, Attorney General Jon Bruning, the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the legal team that defended Nebraska deserve praise for their diligent efforts to create and defend Nebraska’s methods of maintaining compliance with the Republican River Compact.
Edson said the irrigators in the basin also deserve praise for their compliance with regulatory actions and willingness to work with the NRDs and the State of Nebraska to develop workable, common sense, Nebraska-based water management plans. These plans will keep Nebraska in compliance while helping preserve natural resources for generations to come.
“The local NRDs will continue to protect the local economy of Nebraska while providing adequate regulations to protect the water resources,” said Joe Anderjaska of Hayes Center, NARD president and a Middle Republican NRD board member.
Anderjaska added, “The ability to create augmentation projects and the willingness of Nebraska irrigators to finance them will assure that Nebraska maintains compliance, sustains the water supply and protects the local irrigated economy in the basin.”
The case went before Special Master William J. Kayatta in August 2012.
The State of Kansas had sued Nebraska asking that up to 300,000 acres be permanently retired from irrigation and asked for $80 million in damages for water use in 2006. Kayatta instead recommended Nebraska pay $5.5 million in damages.
He didn’t recommend a massive shutdown as Kansas had requested, which is a victory worth more than $100 million annually to the state’s economy. His recommendations will now be considered by the U.S. Supreme Court.
On the heels of the Special Master’s recommendations, arbitrator Jeffrey Fereday issued a nonbinding arbitration order approving Nebraska’s Rock Creek Augmentation Plan and Alternative Water-Short Year Administration Plan.
Fereday rejected Kansas’ multi-pronged challenge to the augmentation project in Dundy County and concluded that it complied with terms of a settlement between Kansas, Colorado and Nebraska reached in 2003.
The Upper Republican NRD began operating the project early this year. It takes water that otherwise would have been used to irrigate crops in the sandhills north of Parks, and deposits it into Rock Creek, a tributary of the Republican River.
“The outcomes reflect the hard work of DNR, the AG’s Office, the NRDs and water users of the basin to implement measures that achieve and assure Compact compliance,” URNRD General Manager Jasper Fanning said of the Special Master’s Report and arbitration order.
Although it would have been preferred to not have a financial damage award, $5.5 million recommended by the Special Master is much less than the requested $80 million, Fanning said.
Kansas’ request for future restrictions on water use was denied and the Special Master acknowledged Nebraska’s accounting concerns, which are huge victories compared to the small damage award to Kansas.
Among Special Master Kayatta’s recommendations were the following:
Republican River Compact Administration (RRCA) accounting procedures should be corrected for accounting years after 2006 so that Nebraska is not charged with the consumption of Imported Water Supply as if it were Virgin Water Supply.
That 100 percent of the evaporation from Harlan County Lake during 2006 as calculated under the RRCA accounting procedures should be charged to Kansas.
Kansas’ request that Nebraska be found in contempt should be denied.
All remaining requests for relief, including Kansas’ requests for injunctive relief, sanctions and appointment of a River Master, should be denied.
While the special master’s recommendations validate Nebraska’s compact compliance actions and procedures, the state and NRDs are working to further bolster efforts to ensure long-term compliance in ways that protect the economy.
Since 2006, several laws have changed to give the local districts the ability to develop water conservation and river augmentation projects.
The Nebraska Cooperative Republican Platte Enhancement Project (NCORPE) in Lincoln County provides an opportunity to provide additional water in compact call and water-short years and avoid additional regulation.
Almost 16,000 acres were retired from irrigation by the Lower Republican, Middle Republican, Upper Republican and Twin Platte NRDs with the purchase of the farm.
The project is very similar to the Rock Creek Augmentation Project but significantly larger and will be operational in 2014 to help prevent an irrigation shutdown on 100,000 or more acres in the Basin
In the future, water will also be piped into the Platte River to help return a portion of that Basin to 1997 levels.
Two surface water irrigation districts in the Republican Basin, Frenchman Cambridge Irrigation District and Bostwick Irrigation District, took legal action to stop the Rock Creek and NCORPE projects from being implemented but a federal court dismissed the lawsuit .
Colorado gets ruling on its arbitration with Kansas
■ NRDs praise Nebraska officials on Special Master Report. PAGE A3.
■ DNR is forecasting another compact call year for compliance. PAGE 1.
Arbitrator says further negotiations necessary
By Tony Rahl
The Yuma Pioneer
Colorado will have to negotiate further with Kansas, or go to the next level in the court system, before it can realize the benefits of its decisions to build an augmentation pipeline and drain Bonny Reservoir, in relation to the Republican River Compact.
Colorado and Nebraska entered into arbitration with Kansas earlier this year after Kansas’ representative on the Republican River Compact Administration voted against Colorado’s proposals on both issues.
The hearing was held before arbiter Martha Pagel earlier this fall, and Pagel issued separate rulings on both issues last Wednesday, November 27.
In essence, Pagel ruled Colorado is taking the proper steps, but that Kansas remains “reasonable” in its objections.
“Although the Arbitrator found that Colorado’s revised Compact Compliance Pipeline (CCP) proposal had made significant progress in addressing unresolved issues from the prior arbitration proceeding, and that Colorado had offered a reasonable and persuasive proposal for modifying inputs to the Groundwater Model, the district is disappointed that Arbiter Pagel was not able to provide Colorado with any relief from the obstructionist behavior of Kansas officials,” stated the Republican River Water Conservation District in a statement issued by its legal representative, Peter Ampe of Hill & Robbins.
The “reasonableness” issue was key to both proposals. Colorado attempted to make the case Kansas was being unreasonable in its objections, and thus should have to join Colorado and Nebraska in granting RRCA approval. Though the majority is in favor of both proposals, unanimous approval is required for all issues brought before the RRCA, which consists of one representative from each of the three states.
Pagel ruled in favor of Kansas on the reasonableness issue with both proposals.
According to the RRWCD statement: “…the Arbiter was unable to provide any guidance on a pathway to resolving these issues given the Arbiter’s conclusion that there is no standard of proof that would allow Colorado to overcome any Kansas objection if the Arbiter determines the objection to have any basis.”
Colorado has purchased more than 50 wells and built a 12-mile pipeline to deliver water from the well field to the North Fork of the Republican River, a short distance upstream from a stream flow gage at the Colorado-Nebraska state line. The water rights have been consolidated into eight wells that will pump groundwater from the Ogallala aquifer to the North Fork.
The pipeline was completed and dedicated in August 2012, but has yet to be used because Kansas has withheld its approval.
Pagel ruled that Colorado’s compact compliance pipeline does not have to be approved by Kansas as a matter of law because Kansas’ objections are not unreasonable.
Kansas asserts the revised proposal still does not address related policy issues raised in the prior arbitration proceeding.
The states had an arbitration with Pagel in 2010 concerning the pipeline, which identified eight issues that had to be resolved between the states.
Pagel noted in her most recent ruling that five of the eight issues have been resolved. The three remaining issues continue to be stumbling blocks, however.
The combined historical consumptive use of the wells purchased for the pipeline is at approximately 13,000 acre feet per year. Colorado would never pump more than that historical consumptive use, and proposes pumping a minimum of 4,000 acre feet annually.
Kansas asserts Colorado’s selected approach does not adequately address negative pumping effects. Colorado contends it does appropriately account for impacts.
Both states had their own experts plead their case. Pagel wrote the “reasonableness test” cannot be used to resolve which expert opinion should prevail.
Since it is Colorado that is seeking the change, Pagel ruled, then it must continue to seek unanimous approval “so long as there are reasonable points of disagreement.”
Pagel’s 2010 decision stated there could come a time when Kansas’ refusal to approve the plan would be unreasonable, but she ruled last week that point has not yet been reached.
Kansas also still has concerns Colorado will try to use the pipeline to make up for shortages on the South Fork in order to pass the statewide compliance test.
Colorado’s revised proposal clarifies its intention to use the pipeline to meet its North Fork obligations, but Kansas argues Colorado could over-deliver water into the North Fork to build a surplus, and thus maintain statewide compliance even if out of compliance on the South Fork.
Pagel notes that the Bonny Proposal addresses compliance in the South Fork sub-basin. If Colorado is not out of compliance on the South Fork, then “the issue may become moot.”
However, since Colorado currently is out of compliance in both sub-basins, Kansas’ concerns are not unreasonable.
Pagel’s ultimate finding was that Colorado’s pipeline proposal includes adequate operational limits to implement the plan as proposed. However, the exact necessary operational limits will remain unknown until current disagreements over the augmentation plan are resolved, she ruled.
Bonny Reservoir proposal
In order to meet its South Fork compact obligations, in 2011 Colorado released all water held in Bonny Reservoir, and allows future inflows through the dam.
Colorado has presented the Bonny Proposal, which requests changes in the Groundwater Model Kansas denied approval of the proposal during a special meeting of the RRCA in May, resulting in Colorado sending it to arbitration.
Kansas acknowledged during the arbitration hearing that Colorado’s proposed use of the “Accounting Procedures” for calculating the impacts, or changes, to evaporation losses and reservoir seepage from draining Bonny Reservoir is acceptable.
However, Kansas asserts Colorado’s proposal grants a credit to Colorado for reductions in groundwater pumping that do not actually occur. It argues Colorado receives an undue benefit, and causes harm to Kansas.
Kansas contends draining of Bonny gives Colorado accounting benefits that result in a significant reduction in the computed pumping depletions for Colorado, even though Colorado has not actually reduced groundwater pumping.”
Pagel noted that though Colorado’s proposal could result in a potential benefit, that benefit “is consistent with Compact requirements and presumably part of the benefit of the bargain that Colorado made in deciding to drain the reservoir as a means of achieving Sub-basin compliance.”
Pagel wrote it was a “razor-thin call” on whether the Bonny Proposal should be approved. She acknowledged that draining Bonny was a difficult decision for Colorado, and it could make that decision without the RRCA approval.
However, RRCA approval is needed to change Groundwater Model inputs and summaries, as described in the proposal. That opens the door to Kansas to question the overall impact of the proposal
Pagel writes it is “inevitable that a finding in favor of Kansas will further delay Colorado’s ability to receive the benefits of its difficult decision.”
The evidence Kansas presented at the hearing, though, “demonstrates a reasonable basis for further evaluation of the Proposal and there is not sufficient evidence to support a finding of bad faith or unfair dealings by Kansas… the States are therefore left with further negotiation on the issue, or further litigation.”
The RRWCD cannot operate the pipeline until the plan receives RRCA approval. The water for the pipeline lies within the Sand Hills Groundwater Management District, and that district’s board must approve the export of water. It has stated it will not allow the export until Colorado receives 100-percent credit.
The RRWCD’s statement from Ampe says the district has no choice but to encourage Colorado to proceed to the next step in this process, seeking a review of the Kansas positions by the U.S. Supreme Court.