The plan by the state to cut off irrigation water in the Republican River Basin in water-short years would significantly impact the economy of Southwest Nebraska, the McCook City Council was told Monday night.
But there is an alternative that would more equitably distribute water in the basin, contended James Uerling of McCook. He and Brad Edgerton, Frenchman Cambridge Irrigation District manager, outlined their concerns with the irrigation shut-off proposed by the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources Thursday in Holdrege.
The plan to shut down surface and ground water irrigators suggested by the state would be adopted as part of the integrated management plan, or IMP, as a way to meet compliance with the Republican River Compact during water short years. The IMP is an agreement between the state and Republican River Basin NRDs that allocates water usage from the river.
McCook and other communities in Southwest Nebraska could be hit hard by the shut-down, according to Uerling, resulting in a substantial reduction of crops along with the loss of associated agricultural businesses and decreased tax rolls.
Under the plan proposed by the state, priority is given in water short years to upland wells and makes quick-response wells (wells within 2.5 miles of either side of the stream or tributaries) and surface water appropriations as secondary, according to Uerling.
A member of the Middle Republican Natural Resources District but speaking as a concerned citizen, Uerling said there is a more equitable way to deal with water short years than shutting down irrigation in the basin.
He proposed that each NRD in the Republican River Basin be responsible for a certain amount of water at the Harlan County Reservoir, based on the amount of water each district uses from the river as designated under the Compact Settlement. This would make the Upper NRD responsible for 44 percent of the 119,000 square feet of water at Harlan, (less than 119,000 square feet in June triggers the designation of a water short year) the Middle NRD for 33 percent and the Lower, 26 percent.
"My plan isn't revolutionary or new," Uerling said. "It takes the DNR's plan and moves it up the basin."
He continued that the four other reservoirs in the Republican River Basin -- Enders, Swanson, Hugh Butler and Harry Strunk -- has its own allocation per the three-state compact and each could be given a trigger similar to the one given at Harlan County using numbers in the compact.
The compact assigns Republican River water usage among Nebraska, Kansas and Colorado.
After the presentation, which was moved from the council's regular agenda to the beginning of the meeting, Uerling and Edgerton presented their information to the public at the Red Willow County Fairgrounds, that was attended by about 60 people.