CURTIS, Nebraska -- The board of directors of the Middle Republican Natural Resources District took no action Tuesday to adopt proposed amendments to its Ground Water Management Area rules and regulations.
During their regular monthly meeting Tuesday afternoon and following a public hearing Tuesday morning, several board members suggested waiting to adopt the rules and regs until they can further study testimony offered at the hearing.
MRNRD Director Dan Smith told directors they have 90 days in which to act on the changes -- revisions or new language -- to the existing ground water rules.
The ground water rules are available on the MRNRD website -- www.mrnrd.org -- under "Proposed District Rules and Regulations to be heard at January Public Hearing." Changes, revisions and new language are highlighted in blue.
In a letter intended as official testimony from the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources, DNR director Brian Dunnigan wrote that revisions in existing ground waer rules were written to clarify actions that the state would take to ensure compliance with Republican River Compact accounting during water-short years. Compact legislation was written in 1943 to distribute the river's water among Colorado, Nebraska and Kansas, and compliance disputes have generated lawsuits among the three states since the 1990's.
Many of the concerns voiced or submitted as written testimony at the public hearing had to do with irrigation water allocations, a proposed four-year "rolling allocation" process and adjustments necessary in "Compact Call" (or dry) years.
Several producers questioned the need for a proposed reduction in pumping allocations from 12 inches per year to 11.5 inches. Benjie Loomis of Maywood wrote in his testimony that a reduction is not necessary because Nebraska is in compliance with the Compact, water levels have risen instead of declining, seed companies are advancing genetics that require less water to produce a crop and irrigation practices are becoming more and more efficient every year. Loomis wrote, "No one, not the Governor, the state or DNR, is asking us to do this. Any reduction in pumping ... will likely have virtually no benefit in compact accounting yet could mean millions of dollars in lost revenue."
The rules and regs cover allocations for industrial and municipal uses and livestock operations. Allocation regulations for irrigation uses change (effective Jan. 1, 2013) from a five-year base allocation process to a four-year rolling allocation process, which is the current base allocation plus any unused base allocation from the previous four years. The ability to use reserve water may be restricted in Compact Call years.
In Compact Call years -- years in which compliance is jeopardized by dry weather, and ground water and surface water controls and/or management actions are needed -- wells in "Rapid Response Areas" are subject to additional controls.
Roger Goltl and David Koetter of McCook asked that all certified irrigation acres have the same allocation in Compact Call years. "This would be fair and just and equitable," Goltl wrote.
Ron Friehe, also of McCook, wrote that he's concerned with Appendix 3.1 that states " ... wells in the rapid response area shall be shut down and no allocation is available to acres served by those wells during the compact call year." Friehe wrote, "This language clearly penalizes the rapid response area only."
Friehe concluded, "In my opinion, rules that treat all irrigators equally will be easier to pass. They will be easier to enforce, they will meet with less opposition and they will have less risk of future court battles."
Vern Friesen of Wallace suggested a solution "to the fairness issue," that the MRNRD use the occupation tax on irrigated acres to pay the rapid response acres in a cash settlement whenever a shutdown is necessary. "These shutdown acres could still be farmed as 'dryland' in these years, so pay them the difference between dryland and irrigated cash rental prices," Friesen suggested.
Friesen asked, "Use whatever numbers you think are realistic and the outcome will favor the solution that doesn't make everything equal but makes it all fair. You have the tools to reimburse people that could be shut down. So, I ask, why would we want to shut the door on this possibility by removing language in our rules that take away this option? You should not remove the language from the rules that allow rapid response shutdown."
Dan Nelson of Moorefield was concerned that rules on the transfer of irrigated acres may hinder producers from being able to relocate a well as a way of spreading the fixed costs of new irrigation equipment over the maximum acres a system can service. Nelson wrote, "New technology (can) help farmers become more efficient and save water that helps keep the district in compliance without spending tax dollars."
Nelson is also concerned that a new industry, such as a feedlot or dairy, will look elsewhere if they need additional water for an operation but MRNRD rules restrict well transfers. Nelson concluded, "It is important to make sure we don't regulate ourselves out of future opportunities."
Nelson suggested that the board continue to allow transfers and replacement wells, limiting them to projects that demonstrate more efficient use of water, no increase in streamflow depletions and no transfers to areas that have excessive declines.
Board members will likely discuss hearing testimony and changes and adjustments in the rules and regs at their next meeting, Tuesday, Feb. 14, in Trenton.
Board members also declined at this time to take a position on a proposed legislative bill introduced by Sen. Mark Christensen that would allow irrigated acres enrolled in state and federal conservation programs that prohibit irrigation to qualify for "nonirrigation status," making them exempt from a district's occupation tax. The MRNRD board decided to see how other NRD's might be affected by the exemption before taking a stand on the proposed legislation.
Board members Joe Anderjaska of Hayes Center, Buck Haag of Bartley, Rick McConville of Indianola, Rick Spencer of Culbertson and James Uerling of rural Indianola are up for re-election and if they intend to run again, must file with county clerks and with the Secretary of State by the Feb. 15 deadline for incumbents.
Non-incumbents have until March 1 to file.