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Officials prepare for water shortage

Thursday, December 13, 2012

CURTIS, Nebraska -- Local and state officials are preparing for a likely water shortage next year that would require extra conservation along the Republican River.

Nebraska Department of Natural Resources deputy director Jim Schneider said Wednesday that his agency is in talks with Kansas and Colorado on ways to comply with the Republican River Compact. The water-sharing agreement among the states dates to 1943.

A preliminary state forecast shows Nebraska's natural resources districts might need to make up 20,000 acre-feet of water next year to stay in compliance.

Schneider says the districts have until Jan. 31 to share their plans for conserving water. He says districts are moving forward with augmentation plans that would draw water from more abundant groundwater sources. Otherwise, they might have to buy water from reservoirs or restrict usage.

At Tuesday's Board meeting, the Middle Republican NRD directors responded with proposed rule changes and penalties for 2013.

The board is proposing for 2013 that 18 percent of 60 inches, or a 10.8-inch allocation be allowed.

For those with carryover, 18 percent of that may be added to the allocation for a total of 12.96 inches for 2013 only.

The proposed changes address a record dry year and an almost certain compact call year. At the same time, the directors are providing some reward for those irrigators who saved water during the outgoing five year allocation period which ends Dec. 31. The proposed changes will be presented during a public hearing on Jan. 8.

MRNRD attorney Jon Schroder reported that all but two district residents have paid the 2007 Occupation tax. He expects similar results for the 2010 Occupation tax after he sends letters out to those who are delinquent.

District conservationist Jason Kennedy reminded that even though a new farm bill has not been passed, freezing many of the NRCS conservation programs, EQIP still has funding. The deadline for EQIP project requests is Dec. 21.

Kennedy also reported that Nebraska will be receiving more than $3.0 million in federal dollars for the Agricultural Water Enhancement Program project areas. The Middle Republican NRD has had an approved AWEP project for four years.

However, since AWEP projects are only funded for five years, this will be the last year that funding will be available for the current project. The board voted to augment the AWEP dollars with district money to retire eligible irrigated acres.

Applicants and land meeting eligibility requirements would be eligible for AWEP payments totaling $710 per acre.

Land irrigated from wells located within the 48 percent depletion to stream flow area could receive additional district funds of $1,290 per acre.

Land irrigated from wells located outside of the 48 percent depletion area could receive additional district funds of $540 per acre.

General Manager Dan Smith and Board Chairman Buck Haag reported on the most recent N-CORPE meeting. N-CORPE is the organization that is overseeing the purchase and development of the Lincoln Farms Inc. property north of Wallace as an augmentation project for the Republican River Basin Districts and the Twin Platte NRD.

The N-CORPE committee assigned HRD to handle ground water modeling values, TC Engineering for easements and surveys, and Ameritas Investment Co. as the Underwriters for the Bonds that will finance the farm purchase and project expenses.

The N-CORPE public information meeting held in Wallace was well received by area residents. Smith estimates that around 40 people were in attendance.

The board approved the manager's cost share report which included two wells to be sealed. Remaining funds for the local conservation program is $140.887.52. Remaining funds for the Nebraska Soil and Water Conservation Program is $1,362.69.

More information is available by visiting www. mrnrd.org or calling (800) 873-5613.

-- The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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