U.S. Water News Online
LINCOLN -- The Ogallala Aquifer could be tapped to fill the
state's largest reservoir, Lake McConaughy, and provide water to the
Platte and Republican river basins, a southwest Nebraska irrigation
Steve Smith of Imperial, founder and director of WaterClaim, which
includes about 100 irrigators and related businesses, says tapping
the aquifer would solve many of the state's major water issues.
The idea is meeting some resistance. The aquifer covers parts of
eight states, but about two-thirds of its water is under Nebraska.
There is concern that tapping the Ogallala would harm one of the
world's largest freshwater aquifer systems in the world.
"It's a pretty fragile aquifer," said Ron Cacek, general manager
of the North Platte Natural Resources District, where the wells would
Tim Anderson of the Central Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation
District said tapping the Ogallala raises "red flags."
Anderson said it's unknown how depleting the aquifer would affect
the Loup River system and other Sandhills rivers fed by the aquifer.
But Smith, in a report, said his $265 million project would
require environmentally friendly water transfers. Careful well
placement would help protect the ecology of lakes potentially harmed
by aquifer pumping, he said.
Each of the 550 wells would pump 1,000 gallons per minute, 200
days a year, producing about 450,000 acre feet of water that could be
diverted annually, according to the report.
Smith said the water could keep Lake McConaughy full every year.
McConaughy is now at 36 percent capacity because of drought.
The proposal, Smith said, also would provide more flows to the
Platte River, enhancing wildlife habitat downstream; help Nebraska
meet its obligations to provide water to Kansas; and address aquifer
declines in Chase County and other parts of the Upper Republican
Natural Resources District.
The water would be pumped from wells in the North Platte Natural
Resources District. Some 27 miles of pipeline and 100 miles of canals
would divert the water -- 61 percent of it into the North Platte
River above Lake McConaughy, 31 percent to the Republican River
"I see Nebraska having two choices: We can either shut down
irrigation across the state or find a way to manage our water
better," Smith said.
Smith's plan would call for the federal government to pay half the
project's $265 million estimate. Beneficiaries of the water would pay
the rest, he said.
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