U.S. Water News Online
SIDNEY, Neb. -- Residents of one drought-stricken western
Nebraska community will not be paying farmers to ensure there is
enough water in town this summer.
The Sidney City Council voted 5-0 against a proposal to pay
irrigators $636,000 not to water crops this summer.
Members of the South Platte Natural Resources District and a group
of producers calling themselves the Sidney Area Irrigators had made
the offer last week to the council. The price was based on $300 per
acre, the difference they would expect in income between raising
dryland corn as opposed to irrigated corn.
``It was a very cordial meeting and everybody knows we still have
to work together,'' City Manager Gary Person said. ``This just wasn't
a workable deal.''
Some strong statements were made during the meeting but nothing
offensive, Person said.
The city, going into its fourth year of drought, would have had to
raise water rates 68 percent over the course of an entire year or ask
for a 128 percent increase in general fund property taxes, Person
The city collected $498,000 in property taxes last year with the
water rates standing at $1.25 per 1,000 gallons of water.
For a resident using 30,000 gallons of water a month, the proposal
meant their water bill would have doubled to $75 a month, not
including the additional $7 monthly service charge.
``That's really the only two options they had,'' Person said.
There also were no guarantees the proposal would work because of
the fractured nature of the aquifer, Person said.
The theory was that some of the 1.5 billion gallons of water not
used by irrigators would trickle down into the already-low aquifer
west of Sidney, thus avoiding the kind of water-use restrictions town
residents had last year.
Sidney's water costs are already high after the city had to find
new water sources 10 years ago when water from the old wells did not
meet Environmental Protection Agency standards. Person said the water
had nitrate contamination from fertilizer.
Besides getting water from replacement wells, the city also is
planning to pipe in water next year from the Ogallala Aquifer 18
miles away, which could add up to $8 million in debt service, Person
Tom Biggs, a spokesman for the irrigators, said the one-time offer
is gone, but the effort wasn't wasted.
``We understand the stresses and pressures that they're going
through as a council. We accept that response,'' Biggs said.
Hopefully everybody will have a decent summer and enough water to
get by, he said.
Biggs said the offer and discussions were a great learning
experience and may open the door to new cooperation between the South
Platte Natural Resources District, the irrigators and the city.
``We found there are some places where maybe we can work together
a little,'' Biggs said.
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