U.S. Water News Online
OMAHA, Neb. -- A new proposal to manage the North Platte
River's water calls for groundwater use in western Nebraska to be cut
in half while farmers in central Nebraska would get more access to a
man-made aquifer beneath them.
The proposal, drafted by the Central Nebraska Public Power and
Irrigation District, would help Lake McConaughy keep enough water for
recreation use even during drought years and bring the river basin in
compliance with state water laws, a spokesman for the power district
But the plan would have to be approved by the power company's
board, three natural resource districts and the state before going
Tim Anderson, spokesman for the power district, said he was
pleasantly surprised by the positive reception the plan received when
it was presented to more than 100 of Central's irrigation customers
recently. Next Central will present the plan to the North Platte,
Twin Platte and Tri Basin natural resource districts for feedback.
"We're still seeking more ideas," Anderson said.
Ann Bleed, acting director of Nebraska's Department of Natural
Resources, said she hopes this proposal can be used as a starting
point for discussion even if parts of it may change.
"I think that there are some very good ideas in this proposal, and
I think it needs to be looked at carefully," Bleed said.
The plan's not likely to receive much of a positive reception in
Scottsbluff or any other part of the North Platte natural resources
district where farmers would be ordered to use half as much
"Obviously, people are going to be very concerned about that
aspect of the proposal," said Ron Cacek, manager of the North Platte
Cacek said he's already been working with a stake-holder group to
develop a plan to manage water use along the section of the Platte
River he oversees, and there are considerable differences between
those ideas and the plan presented this week.
The two other major elements of Central Nebraska Public Power's
plan are: giving farmers in Gosper, Kearney and Phelps counties
access to the groundwater beneath them without requiring them to
replace water used, and establishing some restrictions on Central
Nebraska Public Power's use of the water in Lake McConaughy.
The restrictions on the use of lake water would not affect water
use by the Nebraska Public Power District and the U.S. Fish and
Anderson said the unrestricted groundwater pumping in Western
Nebraska, combined with the drought of recent years, is the reason
why Lake McConaughy is so low.
"Our irrigators could drain the lake if they wanted to," Anderson
Under this proposal, Central's irrigators would not receive any
water from the lake if it held less than 250,000 acre feet of water
at the end of the previous season.
Dean Edson, executive director of the Nebraska Association of
Resources Districts, said he doesn't think groundwater use has as
much to do with McConaughy's low water levels as the Central public
power district contends.
"They're opening up the drain and letting the water out," Edson
State law requires some restrictions on water use in the North
Platte river basin because the river was designated as "over
appropriated" last year. But the law allows at least two more years
before the usage plan for the Platte River has to be ready.
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