Groundwater levels show no cause to celebrate

Saturday, October 13, 2007

The situation has improved since last year, but groundwater levels are continuing to drop east of the Nebraska-Colorado border, according to University of Nebraska-Lincoln researchers.

In fact groundwater has declined more than 40 feet in Chase, Perkins, Dundy and Box Butte counties since 1954, the earliest figures available on the researchers' Web site.

Looking at the rest of the map, it would be easy to relax. Above-normal, well-timed precipitation and less pumping have resulted in higher water levels in places like along the Platte River from Columbus to Fremont.

As Mike Jess, associate director of the UNL Water Center said, the maps are one way to check the health of the state's hydrologic resources at annual intervals.

"We would like to see the map look white (no change). Instead, if you look at the series of maps over time, you see areas that start out lighter and then get darker and finally red (greater than 5 feet of decline)," Jess said.

Always important, groundwater levels are especially urgent as Nebraska struggles to comply with requirements of the Republican River Compact involving Colorado and Kansas.

Certainly the situation has improved, thanks to rainfall and reduced irrigation -- areas along the Republican River upstream from Harlan County Reservoir show up to a five-foot climb in the groundwater level.

But an end to the drought is by no means certain, and yellow-orange portions of the map show declines are far from under control.

Far from a reason to pat each other on the back, the groundwater level charts are a good reminder that there is still a lot of work before the problem of fair distribution of water resources is solved.

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