U.S. Water News Online
OMAHA, Neb. -- Several hundred irrigators in south-central
Nebraska are considering whether they want to sell their share of the
water in Harlan County Lake to the state, so it can be released to
Bostwick Irrigation District sent letters to its 250 landowners,
asking if they approved of the district negotiating with the state
for use of the water.
"I'd like to see what the state offers us," Walt Knehans of
Riverton, chairman of the district, said. "This would be our third
consecutive year without water, if the state took it. We're all
greatly concerned about the amount of dollars we could get."
District officials estimated the state would have to pay farmers
about $2.5 million if farmers were given $100 an acre for water that
typically would irrigate crops on their land.
State Sen. Ed Schrock of Elm Creek said he plans to ask the
Legislature to set aside $2 million to $5 million this year to pay
for the use of the Bostwick water to help keep the state from
breaking a compact with Kansas. The state could face $15 million in
fees and damages if it uses more than its share of Republican River
"If we can get some water to the state line, it'll make a huge
difference," Schrock said.
Schrock said he's also considering legislation to halt irrigation
on 14,000 acres of state land leased to farmers, but hasn't worked
out the details of that idea, including the cost.
The Bostwick initiative is one of several efforts launched by the
Nebraska Department of Natural Resources and the Attorney General's
Office to find enough water to balance the books with Kansas before
compliance with the compact is measured later this year.
Steve Smith, director of the WaterClaim irrigation advocacy group
in Imperial, Neb., said giving up the Bostwick district's share of
water in the lake wouldn't be enough to solve the looming crisis.
"It's like trying to use a bandage to cover a huge, gaping wound,"
Smith said. "That doesn't mean it's not a good first step. But
selling it as a sole solution is a recipe for failure."
The Natural Resources Department said two months ago that the
state appears to have depleted the Republican River in 2005 by 42,000
acre feet more than allowed. In 2003 and 2004 combined, Nebraska used
62,000 acre feet over its allocation.
The drought-depleted Harlan County Lake contains nearly 129,000
acre feet of water and is at 41 percent of capacity. The U.S. Bureau
of Reclamation estimates that the Bostwick district's share of the
reservoir this summer will amount to only 10,118 acre feet.
Bostwick district farmers irrigate nearly 23,000 acres. In 2004,
for the first time since starting operations in the early 1950s, the
district did not provide water to irrigators. Canals remained dry in
Mike Delka, manager of the Red Cloud-based irrigation district,
said his office and home phones haven't stopped ringing since
irrigators received the letters. Delka said he expects to report to
the natural resources department shortly.
"Our guys haven't had irrigation water for a couple of years, and
they want to be careful in placing a value on it," he said. "A lot of
numbers are thrown around. We don't want anybody to lose on this."
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