The Legislature finished its first week of public hearings on bills introduced for this session on Friday the 25th. Monday the 28th will be the first day of debate on the floor of the Legislature. We will be debating bills in the mornings and hearing testimony on bills in committees in the afternoon on into March.
I had two bills up for their public hearing this last week, LB16 and LB52; both hearings went well. LB16, which adds language to last year's bill, will allow Champion Mill Lake and Park to revert back to the Game and Parks Commission from Chase County if extenuating circumstances should arise in the future. It was voted out of committee. LB52, which will allow the Department of Correctional Services to enter into arrangement with non-profit groups for labor services from facilities like McCook's Work Ethic Camp, will most likely get out of committee with a few clarifying amendments.
This week three of my bills are up for their public hearing, LB186, LB353, and LB185.
LB186 would prohibit Natural Resources Districts from creating rules and regulations requiring irrigated acres to apply manure, or affluent. I introduced this bill because of an issue in the Lower Loop NRD where they created a rule to stop dry-land producers from running their livestock hydrant to continuously fill their livestock lagoons and pump it through their pivot as "affluent" to get around the NRD's limit on irrigated acres, in effect expanding irrigated acres.
My concerns are two fold. First, they are allowing producers to apply the manure by a honey-wagon, which spreads the nutrients less evenly compared to a pivot system. This increases the chances of groundwater contamination. Secondly, if the Department of Environmental Quality chooses to lower the concentration of manure per acre, such a requirement for irrigated acres then you would need more acres to apply manure, which may be very difficult find, or force livestock operators to decrease their numbers.
I understand the Lower Loops desire to keep from being declared a fully appropriated river basin, but I think there is a better way to handle the issue than to enter into the Department of Environmental Quality's area of authority. I will be working with the Lower Loop and the Natural Resources Committee to resolve the issue.
In addition, I introduced LB353. This bill would prohibit a NRD from requiring irrigation use on certified groundwater acres or lose your allocation of water for those acres. This addresses an issue in the Central Platte NRD where they have made a rule that you have to use your water allocation two out ten years to keep your irrigated status, even on pivot corners.
I know the Central Platte NRD needs to retire irrigated acres for the cooperative agreement, but I believe it is a little heavy handed to force producers to inefficiently irrigate pivot corners to keep their base water allocation or forfeit those irrigated acres. I want to make sure farmers are being justly compensated for retiring their irrigated acres.
Finally, LB185 would appropriate a $40 million loan for the completion of the augmentation project in Lincoln County that has stalled due to a lawsuit filed by the Frenchman Irrigation District and the Nebraska Bostwick Irrigation District. I believe that without the completion of this project to increase stream-flows in the Republican River we could be in trouble with compact compliance come 2014.
Yet, at the same time, I understand one of the irrigation districts complaints that they will not be able to use any of that water because it will be passed through and not stored for surface water users. Moreover, they won't be compensated for it.
That's why I also introduced LB522 to address this important policy issue. Are we as a state going to take water from producers for compliance reasons without compensation? Or, are we going to compensate producers for not irrigating? I believe this needs to be discussed and settled. It is difficult for any business to predict the effect of government intervention, and the economic impacts of those actions.
This week LB186 and LB353 will be heard in the Natural Resources Committee on Wednesday the 30, at 1:30 pm. On Friday, February 1, LB185 will be heard in the Appropriations Committee, Room 1003, at 1:30 pm.
Remember, please do not hesitate to contact myself or my staff if you have any comments, questions or concerns. Mark R. Christensen, PO Box 94604, Lincoln, NE 68509. 402-471-2805 or firstname.lastname@example.org.