NRDs to give Lincoln County wellfield a break - Hastings Tribune

NRDs to give Lincoln County wellfield a break - Hastings Tribune

Apr 17, 2016

ALMA — Rain in the forecast prompted three Republican River Basin natural resources districts last week to suspend  pumping from a Lincoln County wellfield for the time being.

Mike Clements, general manager of the Lower Republican NRD, told his district’s board of directors Thursday that pumping from the Nebraska Cooperative Republican Platte Enhancement wellfield was being stopped, based on projections that 3-5 inches of rain may fall in the North Platte area over the following few days.

“I think that’s a wise move,” Clements said during the LRNRD board’s regular monthly meeting in Alma.

The Lower Republican, Middle Republican and Upper Republican NRDs own and operate the N-CORPE project along with the Twin Platte NRD. The three Republican basin districts began pumping water in fall 2015 to offset their projected average beneficial consumptive use deficits for 2015 and 2016 — deficits that must be rectified by spring 2017.

Under an interstate agreement, Nebraska must have 40,000 acre-feet of water stored in Harlan County Reservoir and ready to send downstream to Kansas by June 1. Kansas then may call for the water whenever it’s needed for the irrigation season.

The water will be delivered to the Kansas Bostwick Irrigation District, which serves farmers in northern Kansas, at Lovewell Reservoir in Jewell County via the Courtland Canal. Water for the delivery is diverted from the river near Guide Rock.

Clements said that of the 40,000 acre-feet deliverable to Kansas, officials estimate 9,000 a-f can come from natural flows in the river. The remaining 31,000 a-f is to be pumped from the 30 wells at N-CORPE, located in the Wallace-Dickens-Wellfleet area south of North Platte.

As of March 31, Clements said, N-CORPE already had pumped 25,556 a-f of the 31,000-a-f obligation. Pumping steadily, N-CORPE officials had expected to be able to shut down the wells by May 20.

Now, Clements said, the wells will be shut down early and officials will see how much rain in the area materializes.

N-CORPE water flows to the Republican River via Medicine Creek and Harry D. Strunk Reservoir near Cambridge. With N-CORPE wells running, heavy rainfall in the area could more easily lead to flooding along the creek.

Clements said he expects N-CORPE wells will need to be turned back on prior to June 1 in order to complete the NRDs’ obligation for June 1.

“We’ll be firing it up again for a short period of time,” he said.

Strunk Reservoir was full this winter, but water has been released from there steadily over the last few months in order to get the water due to Kansas into Harlan County Reservoir in plenty of time, Clements said.

Between 200 and 300 cubic feet of water per second has been flowing into Harlan at Alma for much of that time, owing to winter runoff as well as releases from Strunk.

Clements said the decision to release the Strunk water early was made by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which manages the water surface irrigation districts receive

“They wanted to get the contract water in Harlan as early as they could, and backfill Strunk with N-CORPE water,” he told the board.

The Bureau saw benefits to moving the water before the growing season began, he said. Plus, whenever larger volumes of water are flowing in the river, less is lost to seepage.

“The more that’s flowing down the river, the more efficient it is,” Clements said.

The four NRDs purchased the N-CORPE property for $83 million in 2012. They then permanently retired 15,800 acres of the sprawling 19,500-acre property from irrigation. Most of those acres are being seeded back to grass for eventual grazing use. The wellfield came online in spring 2014.

The N-CORPE property, which has sandy soil, is underlain by 400-600 feet of saturated water-bearing materials. The wellfield can produce up to 60,000 a-f of water per year for delivery to Medicine Creek via a buried main.

The Twin Platte NRD plans to build a pipeline of its own for future water deliveries to the Platte River as needed.

On the Republican side, N-CORPE and the smaller but similar Rock Creek project, owned and operated by the Upper Republican NRD in Dundy County, can help ensure Nebraska’s future compliance with the interstate Republican River Compact.

The compact has been a source of contention between the signatory states of Nebraska, Kansas and Colorado for many years. Relations have improved recently, however.

Beneficial consumptive use deficits must be offset in any year, such as 2013, 2014, 2015 and now 2016, that is declared a Compact Call Year in Nebraska’s stretch of the river basin.

In Compact Call Years, extra management is deemed necessary to ensure the state’s compact compliance.

The deficits represent the difference between water withdrawn from the aquifer for irrigation and other beneficial purposes, and the basin’s “virgin water supply” — that is, the volume of water a computer model indicates would be present in the basin were it not for human activity.

The deficits to be offset for 2016 are based on the average of estimated beneficial consumptive use in the each NRD in 2015 and projected use in that district in 2016, assuming dry weather this year.

In the fall, the three Republican basin NRDs will be notified by the state how much additional pumping will be needed to finish out their offsets for the year, based on the weather and yearly precipitation to date. Those volumes then must be pumped by April 2017.

In exchange for Nebraska’s agreeing to have 40,000 a-f ready to send to the Kansas Bostwick district by June 1 each year, Kansas is allowing Nebraska to take 100 percent credit for all streamflow augmentation water the NRDs pump.

All three NRDs ration groundwater pumpage in their jurisdictions, but so far have been able to avoid shutting off irrigators altogether for the sake of compact compliance.

Surface water irrigators have not been so fortunate. Irrigators in the Frenchman-Cambridge and Nebraska Bostwick irrigation districts have seen their yearly deliveries cut to little or nothing in several years.

Litigation in those matters is pending.

The Lower Republican NRD encompasses all of Furnas, Harlan and Franklin counties, plus most of Webster County and southern Nuckolls County. Headquarters are in Alma.

The Middle Republican NRD is based in Curtis. The Upper Republican district has offices in Imperial.