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NRDs helping area avoid fiscal cliff?
While some of us are wondering whether Washington can keep us from falling over the fiscal cliff, others are keeping an eye on the supposed Dec. 21, 2012, end of the Mayan Calendar or even assigning significance to Wednesday's unique "12-12-12" date.
Meanwhile, it appears area Natural Resources Districts will keep the Southwest Nebraska farm economy from encountering an apocalypse of its own, albeit not without daring action backed by millions of dollars of taxes from one source or another.
The board of a four-NRD coalition -- the Nebraska Cooperative Republican-Platte Enhancement Project -- approved the bid letting process at a meeting in McCook on Tuesday, and will open bids for the first half of a pipeline project in early January.
The project will convert what has been called the largest crop farm in Nebraska back into grassland, put the water that formerly went into 117 center-pivot irrigated fields into one pipeline leading to the Platte River and another into one dumping into Medicine Creek and eventually into the Republican River.
The plan is designed to maintain enough water in the Platte River to satisfy environmental wildlife concerns, and enough in the Republican River to satisfy Kansas' demands under the Republican River Compact.
It's a costly project; it's expected to cost $30 million to build the pipeline, in addition to the $83 million spent for the 19,500-acre farm in southern Lincoln County, all to be paid for through a $4-6 per acre occupation tax on irrigated land in the four NRDs.
It's also not without controversy, of course. At least one rancher along the path of the southern pipeline thinks the Medicine Creek won't be able to carry all the water to the Republican River, too much will be lost to saturation and evaporation, and hay meadows will be flooded in the process.
And, one of two Twin Platte NRD members resigned in opposition to the project, saying it is unlikely to succeed and short-circuits the democratic process. The other dissenter said the deal is too complicated to succeed in such a short time.
Others worry that local school districts and other governmental entities will be unduly penalized by the drop in property taxes created by converting irrigating land to dryland.
The pipeline is not an original idea; Colorado is building a $71 million Compact Compliance Pipeline to deliver water from wells 8 to 15 miles north of the North Fork of the Republican River to the river just above the measuring device on the Nebraska state line.
That doesn't guarantee it will work here.
But the alternative could be truly apocalyptic -- Republican River farmers might be forced to stop watering 300,000 of the 1.2 million acres under irrigation in the basin if Kansas wins its current lawsuit.
That would truly be a disaster for Southwest Nebraska.