Sharing the burden
The middle Republican Natural Resources District voted to adopt the new integrated management plan which includes the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources Option 3 by a vote of six directors for and five directors against. Due to the seriousness of this issue, I wanted to share with your readers one of my reasons for voting no.
At our public hearing June 8, 2010, of the 15 who gave testimony, only two spoke in favor of Option 3. One was an employee of the DNR and the other a MRNRD director who voted in favor of the plan. The Bureau of Reclamation in its testimony against the IMP stated, "Reclamation contends the State water policy that has evolved following approval of the Republican River Compact ignores the physical reality of the hydrological connection between surface and groundwater sources." All seven pages of Reclamation's testimony can be found here.
I believe all of the testimony given was worthy of our consideration.
Option 3 shifts the burden of compact compliance from all landowners in the basin, which includes all or part of 15 counties in Nebraska, to a few irrigators who farm near the rivers and streams of Southwest Nebraska. Every year the DNR will do a forecast to see if the next year will be water-short (DNR estimates three of every 10 years will be water-short). If it is determined that the next year will be water short and the two-year average indicates a negative balance (current year plus forecasted year), all irrigation wells that sit within the boundaries of the DNR's rapid response area will not be allowed to pump water. If the desired result of compact compliance is not achieved, the rapid response area can expand as needed. Option 3 does not address depletions being made to the aquifer outside the rapid response area.
All irrigation wells that sit outside the area will be allowed to pump a full allocation. If the shutdown continues for another year, their allocation will be reduced by a mere 10 percent
The IMP we took to the public hearing also included a "surface water curtailment," meaning that during a water-short year, the reservoirs of Southwest Nebraska would be forced to bypass inflows starting in January and continuing for 12 months. If our area lakes are not allowed to store water, it would certainly diminish the recreation and fishing opportunities in Southwest Nebraska and, of course, devastate our surface water irrigation districts.
Hitchcock and Red Willow Counties are similar in that both depend on surface water irrigation and about 63 percent of their irrigation wells happen to be in the quick response area. A map of the shutdown area can be found here.
I don't think it's our job as NRD directors to pick the winners and losers. I think it's our job as NRD directors to take what water is available AND the burden of compact compliance and divide it equally among all water users.