Water supply demands

There are many reasons for the excessive demands placed upon a water supply in the Republican River Basin. The first usually mentioned is drought.

As mentioned prior, the allocations and management are based on normal years and are unwilling (not unable) to change or react. Conservation practices and farming practices reduce the runoff to streams, but many hydrologists claim this only slows the water movement to the stream or river.

As the water filters into the ground, it should create stronger base flows to offset the surge flow loss. The more drought tolerant crops help reduce the water needs of the crop, but the advances seen in increased crop yields will require more water.

lt has already been established by courts that many wells do impact streams and rivers. Even the NRD’s will talk in terms such as “allowable depletions.” The impacts of wells on streams depend on many factors such as location, geology, pumping rates etc.

The most telling display of the cumulative impacts is when a chart comparing reservoir inflows and well development is evaluated. Inflows have decreased as well development increased. For example, the inflows into the Harlan County Reservoir have decreased more than 80 percent and other basin reservoirs have seen similar decreases. It is sadly amusing to hear some of our state employees proclaim stream depletions go down in dry years. This is true because they say you can not deplete a dry stream.

This does not mean the impacts to the alluvium have stopped.

The world has not stood still while this has gone on. To try to minimize the impact of reduced river flows and reductions in available reservoir storage, irrigation districts such as Frenchman-Cambridge and the Bostwick Irrigation District have aggressively promoted conservation by converting much of their systems from open ditch to buried pipe.

The results have been amazing. In 2O12, when wells were experiencing record pumping, the amount of water diverted by Bostwick ranked 23rd from the least out of the 56 years of operation. As a reward for these types of efforts, they were not allowed to store water or divert river flows in 2013 and now 2014.

The NRD’s have taken steps, also. They have made major investments in temporary and permanent acreage retirements and augmentation projects such as the pumping on the Rock Creek Project in the Upper Republican NRD, the Riverside Irrigation District retirement in the Middle Republican NRD and the joint NRD effort of the NCORPE pumping project in Lincoln County.

The pumping projects such as Rock Creek and NCORPE are classified as water re-timing projects that cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars and are promoted as a viable alternative to management. This massive debt did not require a public vote, but it may have been a responsible thing to do.

Many people see the “pumping your way out of over pumping” as a lost cause and a temporary answer.

Another potential answer may lie in diverting water from the Platte River with existing facilities of the Central Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation District and/or the Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation District.

This answer is complicated and will need consideration of the Platte River agreements, legislation and other issues.

Very little of these augmentation projects will benefit the surface irrigators and other surface users in the west where water levels have seen significant declines and now have dry or near dry streams.

More augmentation and conservation is being considered but crediting and other issues need to be defined.

Mike Delka, Nebraska Bostwick Irrigation District manager
Red Cloud

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