Republican River Basin: The Upper Republican Natural Resources District approves pipeline to keep farmers irrigating

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From The Yuma Pioneer (Tony Rayl):

The irrigator-funded acre retirement and pipeline project approved Tuesday night will be the largest of its kind in the state and has the potential to help keep farmers throughout Nebraska’s Republican River Basin, where 1.2 million acres are irrigated, from being shutdown to stay in compliance with the Republican River Compact that divides water use between Nebraska, Colorado and Kansas. Complying with the compact has been a source of conflict that is expected to be considered by the U.S. Supreme Court. The project greatly reduces chances that producers who farm close to the Republican and its tributaries in the Upper Republican will have to be shutdown during dry times to help increase stream flow so the district doesn’t exceed its allotted amount of allowable stream flow depletions caused by groundwater irrigation. “This project is a cost-effective way to stay in compliance with the compact while protecting our water resources and keeping farmers in the basin in business,” said Jasper Fanning, Ph.d., general manager of the Upper Republican Natural Resources District. “It doesn’t negate the need for reduced water use to stay in compliance and the district, as it has for 30 years, will continue to be at the regulatory forefront of groundwater management.”

The district’s Board of Directors on Tuesday night unanimously approved the purchase of nearly 3,300 irrigated acres with 24 center-pivot systems located just north of Rock Creek State Fish Hatchery, which is seven miles north of Parks in Dundy County, at a cost of $10 million. A portion, not all, of the water that historically has been used to irrigate the land will instead be piped into nearby Rock Creek, which flows into the Republican River near Parks. The water will be piped only when needed, during dry times, to stay in compliance with the compact. The land is expected to eventually return to natural vegetation. It is hoped that the pipeline will be in place in 2012. The project may only need to be used every three or four years, at the most. History suggests that during the driest of years, the district may need an additional 10,000 acre feet of water to stay in compliance with the compact. The proposed project has the potential to supply roughly that amount of water, and more water could be provided in the future granted the district retires more acres.

The Upper Republican NRD worked cooperatively with the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources to analyze the feasibility and benefits of the project. “We believe this project has the potential to significantly aid efforts to stay in compliance with the Republican River Compact and the local integrated management plan,” said Brian Dunnigan, director of DNR. “This is the type of initiative needed to help farmers throughout the Republican River Basin.”

More Republican River basin coverage here and here.

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