IMPERIAL, Nebraska -- The Upper Republican Natural Resources District has been approved to launch a new, multimillion dollar program that could lead to the retirement of thousands of irrigated acres, aiding compliance with the Republican River Compact while boosting stream flows and replenishing underground aquifers.
The Natural Resources Conservation Service has notified the District that it would receive $1 million this year under the Agriculture Water Enhancement Program. The district was approved to receive up to an additional $3.48 million over the following four years, though that amount could change significantly depending on federal budgeting. The money will be coupled with occupation tax dollars gathered in the District by the NRD to permanently retire irrigated acres, with total per-acre payments expected to range between roughly $2,000 and $2,400. The district levies an occupation tax of $6 per irrigated acre.
"We believe this is one of the most financially appealing retirement programs in the state and we strongly encourage producers to consider it and act soon if they want to participate," said Jasper Fanning, Ph.D, manager of the Upper Republican NRD, which encompasses Dundy, Chase and Perkins Counties in Southwest Nebraska.
"This program could be a significant benefit to farmers, our continuing efforts to stay in compliance with the Republican River Compact and help preserve our water resources."
The new program is called the Ogallala Aquifer and Republican River Basin Recharge and Enhancement Program and will be administered by NRCS. The program is part of the district's sustainable, adaptive approach to water management that seeks to preserve water resources for today and the future while allowing the economy to thrive.
In action separate from the NRCS-NRD program but part of the district's overall sustainability approach, the district's Board of Directors in February approved the purchase of 3,261 irrigated acres that will be permanently retired.
A significantly lesser amount of water than what otherwise would have been pumped for irrigation had the land not been retired will be piped into nearby Rock Creek when needed during dry times to help stay in compliance with the Republican River Compact. Rock Creek flows into the Republican River near Parks, Nebraska.
Farmers and landowners in the District will soon have the chance to sign up for the new program announced recently by NRCS. The focus will be acres close to streams such as the main stem of the Republican River that have high, immediate impacts on stream flow. Farmers will have to act quickly to seize this opportunity this year: The deadline to sign up is expected to be late April or sometime in May. All dollars available this year must be obligated in contracts this summer.
Irrigation on acres that groundwater modeling shows have a high impact on stream flows over both a 2-year and 50-year period will be given the highest priority. To be eligible, ground must have been irrigated at least two of the last five years, and the extent of historical pumping will be a factor in the scoring process.
Other considerations will be whether land has been enrolled in a temporary retirement program and if all the acres in a field will be enrolled.
Secondary priority areas will be those with significant groundwater level declines but that have minimal effects on stream flows. Next in priority will be cost-share agreements with producers to purchase tools and technologies that increase irrigation efficiency.
Those interested in applying for the program should call their local NRCS office (308-882-4263 in Imperial or 308-352-4776 in Grant). Questions can also be directed to the NRD in Imperial at 308-882-5173.