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LINCOLN, Neb. -- Irrigators in much of Nebraska have kept
up a frenzied pace of drilling for new wells as a half dozen of the
state's natural resources districts -- facing a third year of drought
-- have issued drilling moratoriums.
The entire Republican River valley in western Nebraska and much of
the state's Panhandle are under moratoriums because of declining
Back east, farmer fears of similar restrictions appear to be
contributing to a drilling frenzy. Even as the North Platte Natural
Resources District at Gering imposed the first moratorium in its
three-decade history May 1, the Upper Big Blue district at York
already has recorded its 95th drilling permit for a new well for the
That compared to 111 for all of last year, which was up 50 percent
from 2001, the Lincoln Journal Star reported.
The Central Platte district at Grand Island issued permits for
about 250 new wells last year, a 60 percent increase over 2001, and
has handed out 100 more already this year, the Lincoln newspaper
``Obviously, the drought has something to do with that,'' said Dan
Clement, a Central Platte water resources specialist.
Ron Cacek of the North Platte district said irrigators there have
made about 400 permit requests, compared with the normal 50. Lyndon
Vogt of the Upper Niobrara White at Chadron presided over the
approval of 204 drilling requests this year before a March 20
deadline for a three-year moratorium. The normal total for a whole
year is much closer to 15 or 20. he said.
Nebraska leads the nation in groundwater irrigation, but it's also
among leaders in western states struggling to escape a multi-year
drought and diminished farm income.
Meanwhile, Nebraska's farmers appear determined to beat any
``It's probably one a day at least,'' Rod DeBuhr of the Upper Big
Blue district said, referring to the pace of permit applications
``Moratoriums and things like that have prompted some people to
drill some wells that they would not ordinarily have done,'' DeBuhr
Four of the state's 23 natural resource districts have implemented
new well moratoriums in the last 10 months, joining the Upper
Republican at Imperial.
A fifth, the South Platte at Sidney, has called a halt to new
irrigation wells along Lodgepole Creek. That places about a third of
its three-county area off limits.
Hay Springs farmer Steve Sandberg, 50, said it was time to take
more steps in the direction of water conservation.
``We can study this thing and study this thing,'' said Sandberg,
also a member of the board of directors for the Upper Niobrara White
district at Chadron. ``But we need to make sound decisions and act in
the right way so that the natural resources that we have will be left
there for the next generation to come.''
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