Two proposed surface water projects with the potential to help Nebraska meet its Republican River Compact obligations in future years have received a boost from the Nebraska Natural Resources Commission.
On Dec. 8, the commission announced an award of $2 million to the Nebraska Bostwick Irrigation District for the automation of the Franklin Canal and a grant of $897,300 for the Platte to Republican High Flow Diversion project, which would redirect excess Platte River flows to the Republican River via Turkey Creek in Gosper and Furnas counties.
Both grants were awarded from the state’s Water Sustainability Fund, which was established to assist high-priority conservation projects around the state. They were two out of the five large-project grants (amounts of $250,000 and up) awarded from the WSF, and among 12 total projects that received a combined overall total of more than $10 million in commitments.
“So of the five major projects, two of those were located in our backyard here,” said Scott Dicke, assistant manager of the Lower Republican NRD, in comments at Thursday’s monthly NRD board meeting in Alma. “That’s a tremendous amount of support from around the state for where we’re at and what we’re trying to accomplish.”
According to the grant application form, the Franklin Canal project would allow for timelier and more precise deliveries of water to surface irrigation customers, eliminating average annual spillage of 2,721 acre-feet from the canal plus additional, unmeasured spillage, and allowing water releases from the Harlan County Reservoir to be timed more appropriately for maximum benefit.
The Nebraska Bostwick district, headquartered in Red Cloud, serves water to 22,455 surface-irrigated acres below Harlan County Dam through the Naponee, Franklin, and Courtland/Superior canals. The water is provided by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation under a long-term contract between the irrigation district and the federal agency.
The Franklin Canal stretches from the north side of the Harlan spillway to about 10 miles east of Red Cloud. Tracy Smith, Nebraska Bostwick general manager, said about 150 customers irrigate a combined total of around 13,000 acres off that canal.
The Natural Resources Commission approved the full $2 million requested for the canal project, which has an estimated price tag of $3.2 million. An additional $1 million has been committed by the LRNRD, with Nebraska Bostwick to cover the remaining $200,000.
Dicke said NRD and Nebraska Bostwick officials have been meeting with the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources to work out details of getting the project built.
Smith said construction activities for the project are expected to take about four months, and that if weather delays and other snags don’t interfere, the newly automated canal will be ready in plenty of time for the 2018 irrigation season.
When the LRNRD board agreed to include $1 million for the work in its fiscal 2017-18 budget, it made the commitment contingent on NDNR agreeing to provide an “acceptable” credit to the Lower Republican district under Republican River Compact accounting for water savings achieved through the investment.
Dicke said the accounting issue will be covered a memorandum of agreement between the NRD and the irrigation district that is being developed to outline how the project will work to everyone’s satisfaction. The NRD board will review the memorandum when it is complete, but Dicke said all parties are anxious to see the project move forward.
“The end result is great,” he said. “It’s going to result in more water in the lake and more timely deliveries to the farmer.”
Nebraska Bostwick is working with a company called Rubicon Water on the plan to install Rubicon’s Total Channel Control system, or TCC.
Rubicon Water was founded in Australia and does business around the world. The company has a U.S. office in Fort Collins, Colo.
The Nebraska Bostwick project involves installing precise flow measurement and control gates along the length of the canal. The automated gates will be integrated into a radio telemetry network that provides real-time field measurement of water levels and flows at locations all along the canal.
Based on those field measurements, a central computer located in Red Cloud will continually update real-time flow setpoints for each check structure along the length of the canal, matching flows to demand and eliminating spillage.
Smith said both Nebraska Bostwick and Rubicon Water employees are to be involved in the automation project, with Rubicon building and installing 38 structures and installing the computer to run them.
The planned Rubicon project is just the latest of Nebraska Bostwick’s efforts to make water deliveries more efficient.
“The district has upgraded many of its canals, structures and gates over the past decade to improve operations and water deliveries, and extend the water supply longer into the growing season,” the application reads. “Laterals on the Franklin Canal system have been buried into pipes to reduce system losses. The district has also added actuated gates and a SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition) system to better monitor and control flows on the Franklin Canal at specific locations. Canal automation and computerized water management using Rubicon Water’s Total Channel Control fits well within the scope of NBID’s District Operating Plan.”
In an interview, Smith said he was happy to secure the Water Sustainability Fund grant. He said the idea for the Rubicon Water system came from a system already in place in the Frenchman-Cambridge Irrigation District upstream on the Republican.
Smith credited his district board of directors for its interest in pursuing the idea when it came up for discussion last summer.
“I feel real fortunate that the board I’ve got is so proactive on stuff like this,” Smith said. “They were behind this 110 percent.”
Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas and the federal government are signatories to the Republican River Compact, a 1943 agreement allocating the waters of the Republican River Basin to the three states through which the river flows.
In times of hydrological shortage, Nebraska is obligated to ensure that Kansas, its downstream neighbor, receives its rightful share of river water. To accomplish this, the Department of Natural Resources can issue a “compact call” requiring the Lower, Middle and Upper Republican NRDs to take extra management steps to offset projected deficits in their beneficial consumptive use of groundwater as compared to their assigned share of the river basin’s virgin water supply.
For the Lower Republican district, those management steps include pumping groundwater toward the river for streamflow augmentation through the Nebraska Cooperative Republican Platte Enhancement project, or N-CORPE.
N-CORPE, which operates a giant wellfield in southern Lincoln County, was established by the Lower, Middle and Upper Republican and Twin Platte NRDs five years ago. When the wellfield is being pumped, each NRD pays whatever share of the pumping costs is commensurate with the accounting credit that district is trying to earn.
Even though the N-CORPE project is in place, the Lower Republican district — which encompasses all of Furnas, Harlan and Franklin counties, plus most of Webster County and southern Nuckolls County — continues to pursue other initiatives that could generate compact accounting credit and reduce the need for pumping in Lincoln County.
Nebraska Bostwick’s Franklin Canal project is one such initiative. Another is the Platte to Republican High Flow Diversion project, or PRD for short, which would divert water from the Platte through the Central Nebraska Public Power & Irrigation District’s E-65 Canal, then release it into the east branch of Turkey Creek at a location between Smithfield and Elwood.
The diverted water would flow about 3,000 feet through a pipeline, then be released into the open creek channel. It would enter the Republican River roughly 25 miles to the south, at a point between Edison and Oxford.
The Platte-to-Republican planning effort is being advanced by an interlocal agency of the same name — a joint venture of the Lower Republican NRD based in Alma and the neighboring Tri-Basin NRD based in Holdrege. The NRDs are working cooperatively with CNPPID, which also is headquartered in Holdrege.
The overall cost of building the project is estimated at $1,495,500, plus $95,000 worth of engineering costs already incurred. According to the WSF grant application, the Lower Republican and Tri-Basin NRDs would provide $141,600 each, and CNPPID would provide $315,000, for a total of $598,200 in funding by those three entities to match the state contribution.
Construction features would include riprap to prevent erosion in 21 locations; nine grade control structures; four new drainage structures; three new culvert crossings; and improvements to seven farm ponds to prevent adverse impacts along the creek.
Dicke said he was gratified to see that the Natural Resources Commission had assigned its top score to the Platte-to-Republican grant application. As with the Nebraska Bostwick project, the commission awarded the full amount of funding that had been requested.
Now, however, the NRDs and Central district are working on the all-important application for a surface water appropriation from the state of Nebraska that they must have in order to operate the project. A surface water appropriation is also is commonly known as a “water right.”
Dicke said putting that application together, and doing it correctly, is the project partners’ current top priority.
“We want to make sure we do a complete application,” he said, adding that the timing for submitting it to NDNR will depend on when everything is ready.
Mike Thompson, division head for NDNR’s Permits and Registrations Division, said that in order to proceed with the type of proposed project he understands the Platte-to-Republican to be, the project partners first would need a variance from his department’s director giving them permission to apply for a appropriation in an area subject to a moratorium or stay on new applications.
This variance would be needed, Thompson said, because CNPPID would be diverting water for the Platte-to-Republican project near North Platte, which is in a stretch of the Platte River Basin that has been designated as overappropriated.
If that variance petition were to be granted, Thompson said, the project partners then would officially file their application, and NDNR would issue a public notice in newspapers and on its website inviting any interested parties to file written comments. The application packet would address many issues including whether the diverted water would be put to beneficial use.
Anyone objecting to the application also could pay a small fee and request a public notice on the matter, Thompson said. Alternatively, the NDNR director could call for a hearing on his or her own accord.
The department’s internal review of the application would include consultations with the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission concerning whether the proposed project would have adverse impacts on threatened or endangered species, four of which rely on the Platte River for habitat.
Thompson said that in addition to meeting all the requirements for a normal surface water appropriation, the Platte-to-Republican applicants would need to address a number of additional issues since they are proposing an interbasin diversion, transferring water from one river basin to another.
“There would be, no doubt, extra conditions and whatnot,” he said. “It’s basically a water right (application), but it just has extra hurdles to be approved.”
Dicke said it’s important to note that the potential water right being sought for the Platte-to-Republican project would be only for occasional excess flows in the Platte (up to 100 cubic feet per second, for no more than five days at a time due to erosion concerns) that were not earmarked for any other project — for example, in times when extra water is being released from or passed through upstream reservoirs to prevent flooding.
The water right for the Platte-to-Republican project would be junior to all existing projects and even all future projects on the Platte itself.
“Our intent is … we would be last in line,” Dicke said.
Project officials expect the construction required to bring the Platte-to-Republican project online would take about seven months, with the timing to be dictated by when a water right might be granted and other permits could be obtained. Meanwhile, conversations continue with landowners along the creek to obtain the needed easements and maintenance agreements.
“That’s something that’s always ongoing, is coordinating with landowners,” Dicke said.
At this point, he is not sure exactly which other permits would be needed for the Platte-to-Republican project if the surface water appropriation ultimately were to be granted.
One possible need is for a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers under Section 404 of the federal Clean Water Act, which is required when projects affect public waters in certain ways.
“Our effort will be to avoid waters of the United States, or if so to minimize those impacts,” he said.