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Warming climate only complicates ongoing conflict
No, it wasn't your imagination: 2012 was a hot, dry year.
Nebraska and Wyoming broke state records last year, according to the State of the Climate Report issued Tuesday.
Nebraska had an average temperature of 58.4 degrees January-November, breaking the old record of 57.9 degrees set in 1934.
The national average temperature was 55.32 degrees, a full degree warmer than the 1998 record.
The McCook weather station recorded 17 record highs and five record lows as of Dec. 27, and a record 38 days of temperatures of 100 degrees or higher.
We ended the year with 9.36 inches of precipitation, 13.17 inches below the normal 22.53 inches.
U.S. temperature records go back to 1895, collected from more than 1,200 weather stations across the lower 48 states. Those 1,200 stations recorded 34,008 daily high records, compared with only 6,664 record lows.
Temperatures have been tipping toward the hotter side of the scale since the 1970s when record highs and lows generally balanced, according to National Climatic Date Center scientists, who say a 1 degree overall increase is a remarkable fact.
Southwest Nebraska may actually have had more time to prepare -- or at least think about -- the warming trend because of the Republican River Compact conflict with Kansas. A special master's ruling on the latest lawsuit was expected today.
While groundwater overall is not declining in Nebraska, other parts of the Ogallala Aquifer, especially the original "Dust Bowl" region in southwest Kansas and the Oklahoma and Texas panhandles, are being pumped dry.
At least three water projects, designed to take land out of irrigation and use the water to meet obligations, are being built along the Republican -- one in Colorado and two in Nebraska.
However, two irrigation districts recently filed a lawsuit against three Natural Resources Districts on one of the projects, a move that could shut down irrigation projects all along the river, according to the attorney representing the NRDs.
That project purchased 19,500 acres of land in southern Lincoln County in December, with plans to retire the land from irrigation and send the water to the Platte and Republican rivers.
Whether from a changing physical climate, a hostile legal climate or an obvious combination of both, it's clear that Southwest Nebraska agriculture, whether it depends on groundwater or the Republican River, is going to have to adapt as the 21st century continues.