CURTIS, Nebraska -- The Middle Republican Natural Resources District board of directors received news during the monthly meeting Tuesday that the U.S. Congress may be cutting all funding to the Watershed Rehabilitation Program and Resource Conservation and Development in order to reduce the nation's budget deficit.
Many board members expressed concern for both the RC&D and its employees noting that if funding is pulled, local employees of the RC&D would lose their jobs. "The RC&D budget could be cut," said MRNRD manager Dan Smith.
If funding is removed for the Watershed Rehabilitation Program, site 32a, a dam site located at the Hitchcock and Hayes County line, would be left unfinished as the remaining funds for this project would be pulled. According to Smith, there is still approximately $300,000 needed to finish the 32a site rebuild.
Prior to the monthly meeting, the board heard arguments from Dave Koetter and his lawyer, Nate Schneider, and the MRNRD staff and their lawyer, Jon Schroeder. The hearing was the next step in Koetter's request to have the number of his irrigated acres raised from 180 to 235. The board voted 10-1 in favor of denying Koetter his request.
Schneider said, "[My client and I] are going to talk before we make any other decisions from here."
The only dissenting voice in the vote to deny Koetter was board member James Uerling.
"He is paying taxes on that land and I feel if you are paying the taxes you should be able to use [the water]. He messed up. How many times do we kick him around?" said Uerling. "He has paid his taxes, and hasn't [defaulted] on them and I feel I haven't changed from my original vote."
Uerling had made the original motion at the first hearing in November to allow Koetter the extra acres, but the vote failed 2-9.
"I understand why the others voted the way they did; it's against the rules to expand acres," said Uerling.
The meeting began an hour behind its scheduled time as the hearing ran long and started with chairman Buck Haag informing all attendees of the meeting rules and correct conduct of those in attendance.
"I am glad to see those who are here, but any disruptions will extend our meeting and anyone being disruptive will be asked to leave," said Haag.
The first two items voted on were the approval of the February meeting minutes and the variance request by Frenchman Valley Irrigation District. Both were passed with unanimous approval.
The variance request was for the district to continue the process of not making deductions on the surface acres for the Frenchman Valley Irrigation District. As per the agreement for the variance request, Frenchman Valley reports all irrigators who use both surface and ground water.
The board voted to approve sending board members Bill Hoyt, Buck Haag and manager Smith to Lincoln to represent the MRNRD at a hearing for LB 645 on Thursday, March 10 at 1:30 p.m. LB 645 will require inclusion of established surface water use and established ground water use in certain agreements between a natural resources district and the Department of Natural Resources as prescribed. This would change how the MRNRD would register water use as it includes the use of virgin water supplies within the district.
The bill, introduced by State Senator Mark Christensen, could change the water allotment breakdown between the three Republican River Basin districts. The board plans on voicing their approval of this measure.
"If we could gain three or four percentage point, that would help us immensely," said Uerling.
However, Smith and board members do have some concerns over the lack of specific wording of the bill.
"The wording is a little vague, but it would allow for conjunctive water management," said Smith.
In other legal news from the meeting:
* the U.S. Supreme Court has still not decided whether it will hear the Kansas versus Nebraska case
* LB 383 has passed. The bill removed all state funding to the natural resources districts
Jason Kennedy of the Natural Resources Conservation Service reported that, in part thanks to the McCook Daily Gazette, they filled their allotment for permanent retirement of acres for this year. There are 52.2 acres in Frontier County, 103.4 acres in Red Willow County and 7.8 acres in Hitchcock County. The NRCS is also looking at receiving $230,000 in grants for 12 temporary retirement projects.
Smith sent out letters of inquiry to attorneys requesting fee schedules for legal representation of the MRNRD. Haag appointed Kevin Fornoff, Hoyt, and the executive committee to interview the attorneys via phone before bringing the information to the board for a vote.
Other items on the agenda included:
* Unanimous approval of the financial report
* Board member Jo Anderjaska reported that the Nebraska Association of Resources Districts is looking to partner with a vendor for the Husker Harvest Days. Anderjaska noted that the usual non-profit rate will not be available until all full priced spots are sold.
* MRNRD staff member Roger Lawson reported on Information and Education
* discussion on IMP revisions were still under way within the groundwater committee
* the board went over the water report given at the water conference
* Ag Valley sent a letter to the board to inquire about the need to make a variance request for a new well.
* Unanimous approval of the cost share program