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Official: Compact call year no surprise

Thursday, April 19, 2012

James Schneider, deputy director of the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources, explains the "compact call year" process to directors of the Middle Republican Natural Resources District during a special meeting Tuesday afternoon.
(Connie Jo Discoe/McCook Daily Gazette)
CURTIS, Nebraska -- An official with the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources told directors of the Middle Republican Natural Resources District that a compact call year "isn't going to sneak up on us, or jump out of a bush at us."

James Schneider, deputy director of the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources, said Tuesday that the models and forecasts that will trigger a compact call year (CCY) for Republican River NRD's will keep any suspense out of process. "We'll see it coming," Schneider said.

The designation of a "compact call year" means that any or all of the three Republican River basin NRDs may have to implement management actions to ensure that sufficient Republican River water reaches Kansas to keep Nebraska in compliance with the 1943 Republican River Compact.

What triggers a CCY?

* When actual uses (Nebraska's allocation) by the NRD's exceed the allowable depletions for the forecast year. Subtracting use from allocation is done every year, Schneider said.

* When there are projections of a water-short year and forecasts of dry conditions.

* When there are low water supplies at Harlan County Lake (less than 119,000 acre feet). Schneider said, "There are huge under-uses now, but if things get dry, things tighten up." There are currently 327,000 AF in Harlan County.

Schneider said that the measurement of less than 119,000 AF doesn't have to be on Jan. 1, but what is forecast to be available on July 1.

"Early warning systems" are in place, he said, to predict shortages at Harlan County. During the last drought, in 2002, Schneider said, there was no forecast system available. "The settlement (of the non-compliance lawsuit filed by Kansas against Nebraska) hadn't even been reached yet," he said. Now, he said, forecast systems "will keep us in compliance."

Schneider said determinations of allowable stream flow depletions (ground water and surface water depletions) for the three NRD's are made every year starting in the fall.

The Upper Republican NRD is allowed 50 percent of allowable ground water depletion; the Middle Republican is allowed 30 percent; and the Lower Republican is allowed 20 percent.

Schneider said that forecasts are finalized by the end of December.

This is a critical point for the three NRD's, he said, when officials look at projected shortfalls and determine where the fault lies by January of a CCY. "In January, we'll look at options for making up that shortfall, if regulation is needed, and the percentage of allocation curtailment," Schneider said.

Any NRD that has overused its allocation by greater than 100 AF is expected to make up that shortfall, Schneider said.

Schneider said that the MRNRD's Riverside project, in which 672 previously irrigated acres have been permanently retired, and other efforts that have permanently retired an additional 2,523 acres, at a cost to MRNRD taxpayers of $11 million, "has a positive benefit" and will result in a 100 percent credit for the MRNRD in water usage calculations.

Schneider said that because those acres are wholly within MRNRD borders, and it is "pumping that isn't there now," the reduced water usage will be credited to the MRNRD. Schneider said that the state has spent money on the same type of program. "It's not a bad idea," he said.

MRNRD officials would like to see the MRNRD's allocation set at 30.87 percent, instead of being rounded down to 30 percent as it has been. MRNRD board member James Uerling pointed out that .87 percent amounts to 1,566 AF of water.

MRNRD board chairman Buck Haag told Schneider, "If our IMP went to 30.87, how you correct the other two NRD's isn't our concern."

Schneider said that the DNR models are designed to look beyond one year, and calculations involve the use of a five-year average. "2008 was wet, but we lose it in our five-year average," Schneider said.

He added, however, that 2010 and 2011 looked good as well. "Our only marginal year (in the current five-year array) is '09," he said.

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