GRAND ISLAND — Two ideas to address river augmentation projects’ impact on property values were described at Thursday’s Central Platte Natural Resources District board meeting in a report about the Nebraska Association of Resources Districts’ legislative conference earlier this week.
The project at the center of the issue is NCORPE, the Nebraska Cooperative Republican Platte Enhancement project.
NCORPE partners, the Upper, Middle and Lower Republican and Twin Platte NRDs, purchased a 19,500-acre Lincoln County farm in 2012 and have repurposed groundwater use from irrigation to streamflow enhancement.
Three-quarters of the water is available to transport by pipeline and Medicine Creek to the Republican River for Republican River Compact Compliance and one-fourth goes to the Platte River.
Although the four NRDs wanted to continue paying property taxes on the repurposed land, the state constitution does not allow public subdivisions to do so.
At the CPNRD board meeting, General Manager Lyndon Vogt said LB1123 and LB1124 introduced by Sen. Mike Groene of North Platte, who represents Lincoln County, seek to have augmentation project owners sell the land while retaining rights to the groundwater.
Property taxes then could be paid if the land returned to private ownership.
Vogt and CPNRD Board Chairman Jim Bendfeldt of Kearney, who also is NARD board president, said that idea could allow other states to buy Nebraska water.
“The NRDs oppose those bills that attempt to force the sale of land for NCORPE,” Vogt said, and to separate land ownership from the water rights.
“That would really upset the applecart for how Nebraska deals with water,” he said, because landowners have the right to use the underlying water.
Vogt said a separation could allow a water market to develop.
In states such as Colorado and Nevada, water-starved cities are paying high prices for water rights. “Agriculture takes a back seat to all of that then,” Vogt said. “It can’t compete with municipalities.”
“They’re just fraught with a lot of legal dangers,” Bendfeldt said about the Groene bills.
Venango Sen. Dan Hughes has offered a different solution to the augmentation projects-property values issue in LB758. It would allow NRDs that have acquired private land for such projects to collaborate with county representatives to lessen the impacts to the county’s property tax base.
Vogt said that could include voluntary in lieu of tax payments, which would avoid a conflict with the constitutional issue of public entities not being allowed to pay property taxes.
On another Nebraska Legislature issue, Vogt said the Natural Resources and Agriculture committees each have only about 12 bills to consider this year, compared to 100 or more for some other committees.
He said there has been some talk about merging the Natural Resources and Ag committees, and he’s not sure if that would be good or bad.
In other CPNRD business Thursday, the board was told that the staff is working on a proposed partnership with The Nature Conservancy.
Vogt told the Hub that TNC has received grant funds to partner with landowners on irrigation conservation practices, with a focus area within the CPNRD east of Kearney. “It’s a water quantity project, but water quality is a secondary benefit,” he said. “It falls into some programs we already have.”
Vogt said TNC officials likely will make a more detailed announcement soon to allow work with landowners to begin by late February.
The board also:
- Elected Director Deb VanMatre of Gibbon as secretary and re-elected Chuck Maser of Grand Island as treasurer. Directors also signed up for committees for 2018.
- Approved moving the March meeting from the 22nd to the 29th to avoid a conflict for directors who may attend a National Association of Resources Districts Legislative Conference March 17-21 in Washington, D.C.
- A rescheduled board retreat was set to start at 8 a.m. Feb. 22, ahead of the next regular board meeting.