U.S. Water News Online
LINCOLN, Neb. -- It's only June, and the Platte River is
already running dry in some parts of central Nebraska, adding to area
farmers' worries &emdash; and likely draining their pocketbooks later
As the region enters a fifth year of drought, the state's longest
river is vanishing earlier this year than normal.
At Grand Island, measurements taken by the U.S. Geological Survey
showed the Platte registering zero flows.
"The important thing to realize is that over a 70-year record at
this gauge, the average flow on June 10 is 2,095 cubic feet per
second,'' said Dan Hitch, a federal hydraulic technician at North
Cozad-area farmer Ron Stear, who is president of Cozad Ditch Co.,
said his company's irrigators will be lucky to have a 30-day supply
of water this summer. About one-third of them will have to supplement
with groundwater, he said.
To force those irrigators with wells to tap groundwater, the ditch
company will charge $70 per acre for river water this year, nearly
triple the usual $25 per acre.
Farmers will pay the higher price "if it's a choice of water or no
water,'' Stear said.
Richard Hass, president of the Central Irrigation District based
in Gering, called the recent levels the lowest he's seen the North
Platte River in 42 years.
His district will get only one-third of its normal allocation of
storage water this season, he said.
In a typical June, flows into Lake McConaughy, the state's largest
reservoir, average 1,200 to 1,300 cubic feet per second. Recently,
they measured 80 to 90 cubic feet per second.
"It's very disturbing,'' said Tim Anderson, spokesman for the
Central Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation District, which owns and
operates the reservoir.
The lake rose 15 feet this spring from flows that came from
mountain snowpack and Wyoming reservoirs. But the lake is at now 35
percent of capacity and dropping &emdash; even before the heavy
irrigation season has begun.
The district will have enough water this summer to meet demand,
Anderson said, but the future looks bleak.
"Unless we get some real good rains in June, July and August, the
lake will be very, very low,'' he said.
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