By Russ Pankonin
The Imperial Republican
When discussion about their own possible augmentation project came up at last month’s meeting of the Upper Republican Natural Resources District, the board quickly retreated to executive session for negotiations purposes.
Now, people know why. At the Feb. 1 meeting Tuesday night, the board was expected to approve the purchase of 24 irrigated quarters in southwest Dundy County north of Rock Creek.
The tract includes 3,261.6 acres of certified irrigated land at a purchase price of $10 million.
The intent of the board will be to retire irrigation on the property after the 2011 irrigation season. The land will be rented back to the current owner for the upcoming irrigation season. After that, the ground will be returned to natural vegetation.
Jasper Fanning, manager of the URNRD, said this will be a great management tool for the district.
“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,” he said.
While the subsequent augmentation project will go a long ways in achieving compliance, he said there will still be the need for reduce consumption over time.
Fanning said a great deal of engineering must still be completed but noted the property has areas where augmentation pumping will have little or no affect on stream flow depletions.
From initial estimates, the property is capable of producing about 10,000 acre feet of water that can be used for compliance purposes.
Engineering will determine exactly where water will be introduced to Rock Creek.
Fanning hopes they can work with the Game & Parks Commission and use the water to help benefit the Rock Creek fish hatchery water supply, as well as creek flows below the hatchery.
Fanning said they will need about 10 miles of pipe to bring the water to the stream.
Some of the existing irrigation wells on the tract will be decommissioned, with the likelihood of drilling larger capacity wells.
Fanning said the URNRD, during the height of the drought, exceeded its allocation by 10,354 acre feet in 2005.
The Middle Republican NRD exceeded their allocation by 14,932 acre feet in 2005 while the Lower Republican NRD exceeded their allocation by 17,033 acre feet.
This augmentation project can be used by the URNRD to offset deficits going forward.
Fanning said they will still seek additional acreage retirement near the streams and rivers in the district, along with surface water purchases.
When this land purchase opportunity looked feasible, they worked closely with the the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources to analyze the project. He said the state likes it and feels it will work.
Because of the integrated management plan (IMP) adopted last year by the URNRD, this water will be protected by DNR when compact call years occur. A compact call year is determined by DNR, based solely on the state’s ability to achieve compact compliance.
The plan will be sent to the Republican River Compact Administration (RRCA) for their approval. If approved, the district will get full compliance credit for the pumping.
Even without approval, the district will still get nearly 70 percent of direct compliance benefit for every acre foot pumped because of the IMP.
Fanning said an existing stream gauge on Rock Creek is a recognized measurement gauge for compact compliance purposes. As a result, water will be fed into the stream above that gauge.
He also explained the pumping from the project will be on an as-needed basis.
The state currently predicts water-short conditions will occur in the basin about one-third of the time.
When that occurs, DNR declares a compact call year to keep the state in compliance. When that occurs, surface water use and groundwater pumping can be regulated, to the point of shut down.
The URNRD’s current IMP includes the option to the shut off irrigation wells in the Rapid Response Areas near streams and tributaries in compact call or water-short years.
However, Fanning believes this project will enable the district to avoid any shutdowns in those areas. The goal was to find a solution that wouldn’t require the regulatory shutdown of RRA wells.
Funds to Pay for Project
After the occupation tax is collected for 2011, the district will hold about $8.8 million, including receipts from previous years.
Fanning said the district still owes the state $3.75 million for repayment of money loaned to pay for surface water purchases during the drought.
That leaves around $5 million to use on the augmentation project. He anticipated the board would issue bonds or seek other financing to cover the difference.
This difference includes about $2.5 million for the construction of the pipeline.
Once the corn is off the land in the fall of 2011, he’s hoping construction on the pipeline and wells can begin.
DNR has already declared that 2011 won’t be a water-short year. They believe it will also be avoided in 2012 unless precipitation conditions change drastically.