UPDATE: LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) _ The Lower Platte North Natural Resources District board has lifted its moratorium on new irrigation wells and imposed allocations on two areas within the Wahoo-based district.
The board on Monday created the two so-called special water quantity areas in an effort to stabilize aquifers in Butler, Saunders, Platte and Colfax counties. Water tables had dropped more than 50 feet in some areas, and some domestic wells dried up during the past two summers.
Irrigators in both special areas would be allocated 27 inches of water an acre over a three-year period. The allocations would begin in areas of Butler and Saunders counties in 2015 and Colfax and Platte areas in 2016. The two areas total less than 5 percent of the eastern Nebraska district.
The Lower Platte North NRD held a public hearing last Thursday in Valparaiso on this issue.
There's a water fight amidst three Nebraska towns. Some people are going without drinking water as their home wells dry up and some are pointing the finger at irrigators.
The Natural Resource District knows the dry summers were rough on the water supply across the state. That's why the district held a public hearing Thursday night in Valparaiso, asking for solutions.
In the Valparaiso, Dwight, Brainard area, the past two summers, some well owners saw their domestic wells dry up.
"In one case their was a young family, just bought an acreage, made that investment and then this summer they ran out of water," explains Tom Pesek, of Brainard.
As a result, in September, the Lower Platte South Natural Resource District restricted water usage for farmers.
Officials believe the vast amount of water used by pivots has put stress on the aquifer.
Many ag producers are not very happy with the restrictions and a proposal to permanently enforce some new rules.
Betty Tvrdy says they just installed a new irrigation well in 2013.
"We invested a lot of money, we should of had some warning when we were going to put in the well," says Tvrdy.
Tvrdy is mostly upset because her area hasn't been impacted like others but she still has to abide by the restrictions, she says her domestic wells never went dry.
But Pesek watched many of his neighbors suffer and believes a change needs to be made. He says, "To me, having people on the land is much more important than having a few extra bushels of corn."
The restrictions expire in the middle of March.
The NRD expects to make a decision on the proposal by then.
Included here is a Press Release from the NRD, which includes the proposals:
The Lower Platte South Natural Resources District Board of Directors is proposing changes to its Ground Water Rules and Regulations it hopes will stabilize the supply of ground water used by residents and businesses in an area where a moratorium on the development of additional irrigated acres and new wells has been in effect since September. The moratorium area includes the Dwight, Valparaiso and Brainard area. A public hearing on the NRD's proposed rules to address seasonal declines in ground water levels in the area and allow testimony on two pending well permits is set for 7:00 pm on January 9th in Valparaiso.
The NRD Board expects that any necessary action will be in place by the time the 180- day moratorium expires in March. The moratorium was imposed by the Board in response to reports domestic well owners were experiencing well failure or reduced capacity of their wells during the summers of 2012 and 2013. The moratorium or stay on the certification of additional irrigated acres and on the construction of new wells in the designated area has given the NRD time to study the situation and conduct a survey of 775 property owners within the area, excluding residents of Dwight, Valparaiso and Brainard who are on city water systems, unless they own other property in the moratorium area. The NRD received responses from 42 percent of those surveyed. The survey asked how many and what type of wells they have on their property; whether they have plans to add wells; what kinds of well problems, if any, they have had in the past two years; and the survey asked for suggestions on how the NRD might help. "For 42 percent of landowners to take the time to read the survey, respond to it and send it back to us in a timely manner is a huge response," said NRD Assistant Manager Paul Zillig. Zillig said the response rate indicates much interest among landowners in how their water supply is managed in the future.
Proposed changes to the NRD's Ground Water Rules and Regulations would designate a Special Management Area to manage seasonal water level declines in the moratorium area.
The proposed regulations include:
* Placing a stay on the development of new ground water irrigated acres
* Establishing a 2014 allocation of ground water used for agricultural purposes of 7.0 inches for sprinkler irrigation systems and 10.0 inches for gravity systems, setting procedures for subsequent years and specifying reductions in subsequent allocations for over-use
*Requiring educational certification for persons engaged in the irrigation of agricultural land
* Establishing cost-share programs to implement Best Management Practices
* Requiring new or replacement domestic wells be constructed to such a depth as to decrease the effects of seasonal declines in water levels and requiring certification from well contractors those wells are of adequate depth
* Requiring the review of all well permit applications by the District Board of Directors and allowing the NRD to deny permits that adversely impact existing wells or would not be in the public interest
The NRD began receiving reports of well problems in the moratorium area during the summer of 2012. NRD Water Resources Specialist Dick Ehrman said, "That was an extremely dry summer and most of the phone calls about well problems came in July and August." Ehrman said, "Temperatures were more moderate and rainfall was closer to normal in the summer of 2013, until it got hot and dry late in the irrigation season. I received the bulk of calls from concerned well owners this summer in August and September." Ehrman explained many of the wells in the Dwight/Valparaiso/Brainard area utilize confined or semi-confined aquifers. He said those aquifers are under pressure and water levels in these aquifers respond fairly rapidly to pumping. "When many wells begin pumping at the same time," Ehrman said, "the pressure decreases and causes water levels in many of the aquifer's wells to drop rapidly." Since domestic wells may not be as deep as irrigation wells, the domestic wells, he said, can be the first to show signs the aquifer is being stressed.
Since 1980, an average of 46 new wells have been added in the moratorium area each decade. Already, since 2010, permits have been issued for 36 wells in that area. NRD General Manager Glenn Johnson said, "Adding more high capacity wells or more irrigated acres will only stress the ground water resources more and decrease their ability to sustain existing beneficial uses." "The District," said Johnson, "knows landowners have significant investments in wells for many purposes, but Nebraska State Statutes recognize domestic water use as the highest priority, followed by agricultural use and the NRD Board must observe those laws."
Of those landowners who responded to the NRD's recent survey, 22 percent reported at least one well problem in the past two years. Suggestions were offered by 131 of the respondents and 84 of those suggestions called for limitations on wells or irrigation. None of the respondents suggested the NRD drop the moratorium on either high capacity wells or increases in irrigated acres, but several indicated they had plans to drill a well for irrigation or filling a pond.
The Board will consider approval of the proposed rule changes at their January 15th meeting.