Can advisory panel help find answers?

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Connecting academia to the real world is always an important task, but never more important than in the case of an advisory panel that has been looking at Nebraska's water problems since 2006.

The 15-member Water Resources Advisory Panel's current priorities include quantifying water supply and demand for Nebraska river basins, beginning in the west; identifying opportunities for conjunctive management of water, especially where surface water could be stored as groundwater until needed for compliance with surface water compacts; determining the relationship between surface water and groundwater supplies; assessing better management options to reduce the impact on water supplies during drought and exceptionally wet periods; developing realistic state standards for nutrients in flowing waters; mitigating water contamination from livestock operations and agricultural production; and evaluating and measuring effectiveness of riparian buffer strips.

If those issues sound familiar, they should; most of them relate directly to life-and-death issues for the Republican River Valley economy.

Others are nearly if not equally important, such as measuring consumptive water use, maintaining beneficial use while reducing non-beneficial use, studying current water management concepts and research options for improving the relevance, efficiency and effectiveness of current approaches; identifying ways to recognize the value of water for recreation, aesthetics and wildlife; ways to create fair and equitable water market systems; determining effects of climate change on Nebraska's water resources, especially in areas where demand is greater than supply; and developing action to mitigate the potential effects of climate change that may also have other supplemental water management benefits.

All the major players have a part in the WRAP group; current members include Mark Brohman of the Nebraska Environmental Trust; State Sen. Tom Carlson of the Agriculture Committee, Nebraska Legislature; Brian Dunnigan, Nebraska Department of Natural Resources; Eugene Glock, Cedar Bell Farms; Frank Kwapnioski, Nebraska Public Power District; Marian Langan, Audubon Nebraska; State Sen. Chris Langemeier, Natural Resources Committee, Nebraska Legislature; Mike Linder, Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality; John Miyoshi, Lower Platte North NRD; Kirk Nelson, Nebraska Game and Parks Commission; Jerry Obrist, Lincoln Water System; Lee Orton, Nebraska Well Drillers Association; Jay Rempe, Nebraska Farm Bureau; Dennis Strauch, Pathfinder Irrigation District; and Dayle Williamson, office of U.S. Sen. Ben Nelson.

"The panel has shown strong support for promoting excellence in water research efforts across the University of Nebraska system," said WRAP facilitator Rachael Herpel of the UNL Water Center and NU Rural Initiative.

It appears all the pieces are in place to provide the answers vitally needed to deal with the Republican River Compact conflict.

It's unfortunate that the group wasn't formed until 2006, long after we needed the answers it was designed to find. Courts and policymakers were forced to act before complete, accurate information was available, and we're still paying the price. Let's hope quality research the WRAP group cultivates can provide that information in time.

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