U.S. Water News Online
CENTRAL CITY, Neb. -- The Central Platte Natural Resources
District has set out to ensure the future integrity of its
groundwater irrigation base as state restrictions loom.
The district board has been holding public hearings on barring, at
least temporarily, the drilling of new wells or otherwise expanding
the number of irrigated areas inside the district.
The district stretches 175 miles east from the Lincoln-Dawson
county line near Gothenburg to Columbus and contains 2.1 million
According to the NRD, more than 925,000 district acres have access
to irrigation sources. About 70,000 acres could use surface water,
and the rest have access to water from 17,000 wells. Outside the
moratorium area the district established in 2003 stand 358,000 acres
that have yet to be developed for irrigation.
The board will decide in December whether to broaden the locally
imposed moratorium along the Platte.
The board's concerns in part stem from not knowing what the state
Department of Natural Resources might do when it sets boundaries on
the Platte, Republican and others rivers and streams that have been
depleted by drought and groundwater irrigation.
"If all else fails, we may have to go to court to get answers,"
said Ron Bishop, the NRD manager, at a hearing in Central City.
The department has said the entire Central Platte NRD is fully
In August the state set a new irrigation limit, the "10-50"
setback. Under it, there could be no net increase in irrigation
inside a line where 50 years of pumping is likely to cut river and
stream flow by 10 percent.
The imposition of buffer areas could force cutbacks by current
operators if new land were put into irrigated production.
The Central Platte board majority so far would rather avoid that
future problem if steps can be taken now.
Farmer Don Reeves believes the district is on the right track.
"I'd like to express a vote of confidence in the NRD board," he
said at the hearing. The pending moratorium "fits the circumstances
we're in right now," he said.
But board chairman Loren Schuett, who voted against a
district-wide moratorium last month, said he's "not at all
comfortable where we're going here with the state."
"The NRDs were set up 30-plus years ago to handle problems as they
arose," he said before the hearing, "and to handle them locally and
without any interference from the state."
The acting director of the Natural Resources Department, Ann
Bleed, said in written testimony that the department commended the
district on its efforts to "effectively manage the groundwater
resources within the district."
But farmer Franklin Johnson of Central City, while agreeing that
some conservation efforts were necessary, said the moratorium idea
was too much for the district producers to bear.
"Somebody's going to get hurt" by a moratorium or other limits, he
said, "and hurt bad."
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