The MRNRD has six board members whose four-year terms expire at the end of 2010, and these incumbents and their six challengers were invited to attend "Decision '10: A Candidates' Forum," Tuesday evening at the Bieroc Cafe in McCook.
High Plains Radio hosted the forum and Bryan Loker of McCook moderated a panel of five who questioned the candidates who will vie for votes in the general election Tuesday, Nov. 2.
The greatest challenge for the MRNRD is ensuring that irrigators and water users in the district do their share to help Nebraska comply with the Republican River Compact, which, in 1943, divided the Republican's virgin water source among Colorado, Nebraska and Kansas.
Voters in Red Willow, Hitchcock and Hayes counties and portions of Frontier and Lincoln counties will vote for up to six candidates, selecting from the list that includes:
Incumbents Kevin Fornoff, Josh Friesen, Benjie Loomis, Dan Nelsen, Brad Randel and Marty Schurr; and
Challengers Blaine Stinson, Steven Cappel, Jerry Mustion, John E. Palic, Bill Hoyt and Scott Moore.
Stinson, Mustion and Moore did not attend the forum. Others were questioned by panel members Bruce Baker, Doug Joyce, Rex Nelson, Larry Eisenmenger and Jim Ulrich.
STEVE CAPPEL is a farmer and irrigator who has "watched a steady decline of water. We need to change that."
Cappel objects to an occupation tax imposed against irrigators. "It's the state's responsibility, not only Southwest Nebraska," Cappel said. The Integrated Management Plan ('IMP,' a plan for the regulation of water resources within the district) option that the MRNRD is proposing "is a bad deal for all of the Republican River," he said.
Cappel believes that each of the three NRD's (Lower, Middle and Upper) needs to share equally in the implementation of IMP's, abandoning their "'well, as long as it's not me' mentality." Cutting back on water allocations should be a sacrifice for everybody, Cappel said.
Draining the lakes to comply with the Compact in water-short years is "not what the lakes were built for," Cappel said.
KEVIN FORNOFF wants to treat every irrigator equally, regardless of their distance from the Republican and its tributaries, and feels that the solution to maintaining a vibrant economy is to keep everyone irrigating.
Fornoff is in favor of voluntary retirement of acres with compensation.
Fornoff feels that the MRNRD has the tools in place to help Nebraska comply with the Compact.
Fornoff has served on the MRNRD board for 12 years, and cites honesty and integrity, and his knowledge and experience as his greatest assets.
JOSH FRIESEN urges the implementation of science and common sense to ensure sustainability of a clean and abundant source of water, keeping the soil where it's supposed to be and educating people in the stewardship of natural resources.
Friesen said the three NRD's are "very divided at times." More synergy among NRD's and with the state would accomplish more, he said.
Friesen said he sees people "really wound up" about the issues and he would like to see this continue. He would like to see more people involved, and coming to MRNRD meetings.
BILL HOYT wants to manage the district's water resources for the benefit of all. "I don't expect to find easy solutions," he said, but he promised to read and research, and find the most viable solutions.
Hoyt said he thinks the current IMP offers temporary solutions. "We need long-term solutions," he said.
He promises full investigation of all issues. "We can't listen to what we want to hear and ignore what we don't," he said.
Hoyt concluded that the election isn't just about fair treatment for all irrigators, although that's important. It isn't just about needing dams for flood control and irrigation, although that's important, too, he said. "It's about ensuring an adequate water supply," he said. "Water is essential to sustaining life."
BENJIE LOOMIS said that water is the lifeblood of Southwest Nebraska, and encouraged the best use of the natural resources that God has blessed everyone with.
There is no one who is not affected by water, Loomis said. He wants everyone treated fairly and equally, and a rolling allocation can do that, he said.
Loomis said there are lots of tools within the IMP that are needed, but that there is not "one magic answer. There are lots of options to work up."
Loomis said working on the NRD board has been "challenging ... frustrating ... fun."
He concluded that water is not just the issue of the decade, as some politicians have said. "Water is the issue of ... Southwest Nebraska forever."
DANIEL NELSEN said the IMP must spread the burden for Compact compliance to all irrigators, not only those closest to the Republican and/or its tributaries, encouraging the use of a rolling average. The tools are in the IMP to maintain the situation, he said.
He also feels that flexible water management of Red Willow Lake could benefit Compact compliance. He would like to see the NRD partner in the reconstruction of the dam. Everyone shares the benefits of the lake -- irrigation, flood control, recreation, groundwater recharge -- everyone should share in its reconstruction.
Nelsen commended irrigators for reducing their water use.
JOHN PALIC feels the current MRNRD board "is out of touch," voting for an IMP that does not treat everyone fairly.
Palic would like to see the MRNRD address the issue of late-drilled wells.
Rather than shutting down wells in Compact water-short years, Palic urges reducing allocations.
BRAD RANDEL wants to manage natural resources for the benefit of all, for future generations.
He feels that, in addition to regulations and rules regarding irrigation, cleaning debris and overgrowth from the rivers will also help Nebraska comply with the Republican River Compact.
Randel feels that the IMP is fair, and equal to everyone, as there is no reference to quick response shut-off.
Randel said that after a trip to Lincoln, he realized that there is "no political pull where we come from. We have to solve this ourselves."
Randel encouraged everyone to vote, and sees serving on the MRNRD board as a good opportunity to serve the residents of Southwest Nebraska.
MARTY SCHURR said rules and regulations must take into consideration the soil-type diversity and rainfall differences within the upland, quick response and urban areas of the MRNRD.
Schurr said that water is essential for economic sustainability and development. He urges logical, common sense -- not "herky-jerky" -- solutions, as everyone works together.
Schurr said rules and regulations "put teeth" in the IMP, and make no differentiation in quick response and upland acres. He said that if the Middle Republican NRD uses less water, then the Upper and Lower Republicans will feel compelled to also use less water.