Finding a solution to the Republican Basin problem that is as fair as possible to everyone is not an easy task; however that does not excuse haste, short-sightedness, and creating conflict among water users and other constituents. The current management plan was enacted on a 6-5 vote, with five of the "yes" votes coming from incumbents currently up for reelection. The incumbents speak as though this plan was the obvious choice, odd that the obvious choice would pass with a one vote margin of victory. The current plan and taxing structure continues to place the burden of subsidizing current irrigation practices on the entire district. As a dryland farmer, rancher, and taxpayer I am expected to pay property taxes in order to purchase water for purposes of compact compliance. Our current State Sen. Mark Christensen went so far as to ask the eastern controlled state legislature to allow us to tax ourselves even more through the enactment of LB701. Fortunately, it was declared unconstitutional by the courts thus saving every taxpayer within the Middle Republican NRD from an even larger tax burden. With the new management plan, we are told that any additional funding needed for water buyouts and compensation would be paid for by proceeds from an occupation tax assessed on irrigated acres. The first version of the occupation tax is currently being challenged in the courts by several people, some of whom are currently on the MRNRD board; the second one written by the last legislature will likely be challenged in the courts also. Dr. Fanning of the URNRD states in his October 25th editorial that the majority of the cost will be "paid mostly by groundwater irrigators" this currently doesn't appear to be the case as the only sure way for the MRNRD to raise revenue is through personal property tax, paid by essentially everyone in the district; upland irrigator, alluvial irrigator, dryland farmer, rancher, and townsperson. Again the state legislature is more than happy to allow repeated increases in the property tax levy lid so that we can tax ourselves even more rather than provide any state funding. Additionally, irrigators are more than happy to allow expenses to be paid through property tax rather than some form of use fee on pumped water, thus allowing all citizens of the district to subsidize the true cost of their pumpage with the most inefficient users (those using the most water) in effect receiving the most subsidy. The MRNRD budget has exploded over recent years, and even in years when the levy rate has not increased higher valuations have greatly increased your tax bill from the MRNRD. Continuing to promote temporary one-year fixes such as water leases or extremely costly compliance gimmicks such as river augmentation at the expense of property tax payers as the current plan does, is irresponsible and does not reflect any real effort at attaining a long-term vision. Irrigators receive the most sizeable and direct economic benefit of irrigation, and thus should be most responsible for the cost of compliance if they want to continue business as usual.
What is most insulting about the increasing taxes levied by the MRNRD is how they have been used. Efforts to reduce consumptive water use in the basin (at taxpayer expense) have been undermined by water transfers and allocation roll-overs which allow water that would have never been pumped to be consumed and further dig deeper the hole of compact compliance, the very same hole that is being refilled with our tax dollars. These water transfers resulting in increased consumptive use provide benefit for a few at the cost of everybody. These practices need to be stopped (and preferably reversed) not only because of the fleecing of the taxpayer that is occurring, but also for the hydrologic health of the aquifer (water transfers allow some parts of the aquifer to be depleted more rapidly than the water allocation would typically allow) and to at least put forth some good-faith effort in the eyes of the other states at reducing consumptive use.
Many who have commented on the future of the situation have proclaimed the "economic disaster" that would occur if we change course away from the path set by the incumbents. A short time ago, in 2004, many predicated complete economic failure as the MRNRD proposed an annual allocation of 13 inches per year (changed to 60 inches over 5 years in 2008). According to the MRNRD's 2009 Annual Report the average usage in the district in 2007 through 2009 was 8.14 inches. Granted, we have had good precipitation these past years, but more notable has been the adaptation by producers to maximize the benefit of the water consumed. Production agriculture continues to evolve: new seed genetics, adaptation of crop rotations, education, and perseverance all adapt to fit the need. Our universities that overlie the Ogallala region (UNL, CSU, KSU, Texas A&M, and Texas Tech) have been able to set politics aside and are even working together in some instances to prepare the farmers of the future to use less water (and other inputs) per unit of production. If you don't think you can survive then stand aside and let youth and technology lead the way.
MRNRD Board Member 1980-2008