Republican River agreement increases some water supplies for irrigation — the Scottsbluff Star-Herald

Republican River Basin by District
Republican River Basin by District

From the Scottsbluff Star-Herald (Lori Potter):

Some surface water irrigators in Nebraska’s part of the Republican Basin will get more water for their 2015 crops than originally expected as a result of an agreement signed Friday through the Republican River Compact Administration…

A key part of the agreement allows water to be released from Nebraska reservoirs earlier than planned for irrigation, even if that means being out of compact compliance.

Acting Nebraska Department of Natural Resources Director Jim Schneider said Nebraska will be allowed to make up the difference in fall 2015 or spring 2016 with surface water administration and/or water from two natural resources district projects that pump groundwater into tributaries to enhance Republican River flows into Kansas.

Schneider said that before the agreement, Nebraska officials were being very conservative in water administration to ensure 2015 compact compliance, with water likely held in reservoirs until late summer.
Nebraska water rights for irrigation were opened in July 2014, which was too late for farmers to make crop plans based on having water. “It (2015) probably would have looked a lot like that,” Schneider said.

For the 22,455 acres of the Nebraska Bostwick Irrigation District downstream of Harlan County Lake, primarily in Franklin, Webster and Nuckolls counties, that meant a water supply equivalent to about 2.5 inches of water per acre.

District Manager Mike Delka of Red Cloud told the Hub that Friday’s agreement will increase that to 5 inches per acre.

Frenchman-Cambridge Irrigation District Manager Brad Edgerton said the main effect in his district will be downstream of Swanson Reservoir, where 20,000 acres from Trenton to the Indianola area along the Meeker-Driftwood Canal will get a boost from 1.5 inches per acre to 6 inches.

“This won’t be a full supply,” Schneider said, “but it will be the difference between being worth it to (irrigate) or not to take any water at all.”

For the irrigators, an earlier agreement would have been better. “The big advantage is knowing what you’re doing going into a crop year, so we would have liked to have known sooner,” Edgerton said.

Schneider said the incentive for Kansas officials to sign the agreement is that Kansas Bostwick Irrigation District irrigators have a certain 2015 water supply for 9 inches per acre.

Delka said Nebraska Bostwick and Frenchman-Cambridge officials started looking at options when it was clear 2015 would be another “compact call” year, with water to fill the irrigation districts’ needs being held in the reservoirs.

Delka said he, Edgerton and Kansas Bostwick Manager Kenny Nelson met with Bureau of Reclamation officials at a January meeting in Colorado.

“We said this is a third year of a compact call. This is just going to continue forever. We can’t afford that,” Delka said.

Work then began to identify how much water was needed to put Nebraska into compact compliance so the compact call could be lifted.

DNR officials had said an additional 19,000 a-f were needed for Kansas, Delka said, so irrigation district officials thought that had been achieved in a settlement giving Nebraska full credit for 20,000 a-f of Republican Basin water imported from the Platte Basin in 2014 and 2015.

He said DNR then kept increasing the amount required for state officials to agree to lift the compact call and release the water stored in the reservoirs. The other two key components for Friday’s agreement were approval by the Nebraska and Kansas Bostwick districts and by the Republican River Compact Commission.

Delka said the final agreement requires 31,700 a-f of water for Kansas before Nebraska Bostwick gets irrigation water. He said that’s the difference between 10 inches per acre and the 5 inches Nebraska Bostwick irrigators will get.

“We sacrificed, basically, half of our water supply for this,” Delka said. “The only way we could get water is to agree to this, which is wrong.”

Edgerton also said the agreement hinged on Nebraska Bostwick agreeing to those terms.
Delka said Nebraska Bostwick officials will issue a press release early next week explaining further why they don’t like the agreement, but approved it.

“This is one of the few times a public entity like us did something for the benefit of others,” he told the Hub.

More Republican River Basin coverage here.

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