HOLDREGE — Lower Republican Natural Resources District directors approved two steps Thursday to advance a Platte-Republican Diversion Project being developed with the Holdrege-based Tri-Basin NRD.

The Tri-Basin board approved the same project-related motions at its Tuesday meeting.

The boards authorized negotiations to proceed with landowners Malcom and Nicole Dornhoff of Heartwell to purchase a property at the project’s water diversion point.

The plan is to divert excess Platte water, when available, from Central Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation District’s E65 Canal, under Highway 23 west of Smithfield and into the east branch of Turkey Creek for transport to the Republican River.

The goal is to help ensure Nebraska’s compliance with the Republican River Compact.

LRNRD General Manager Todd Siel said this morning that Tri-Basin General Manager John Thorburn is taking the lead in that negotiation, but both NRD boards must approve a final agreement.

Thorburn said Tuesday that the Dornhoff property is at the upper end of the project. Nebraska Department of Natural Resources officials told the NRDs that to qualify for the required state water permit, the districts must own the site where Platte water will be diverted from the CNPPID system.

Work continues on the permit application.

The other step now taken by both NRD boards was to approve a contract with the Nebraska Natural Resources Commission that specifies terms for use of the $897,300 Water Sustainability Fund grant awarded to pay 60 percent of the diversion project cost, which was estimated in a feasibility study at $1.4 million-$1.5 million.

Terms include using grant money only for construction costs, not legal expenses related to the permit, and that the DNR permit must be approved before any qualified construction expenses will be reimbursed.

In other business at Thursday’s LRNRD meeting in Alma, the board:

- Was told that average irrigation water use in the district was 6.5 inches per acre in 2017, which compares to a 2005-2016 average of 7.5 inches. LRNRD irrigators are under five-year allocations of 45 inches per acre, or an average of 9 inches per year.

- Was updated on agreement progress with the Nebraska Bostwick Irrigation District for a project to install 38 automated canal gates on Bostwick’s irrigation system before the start of the 2018 irrigation system.

The project to enhance canal efficiency and allow more water to be retained in Harlan County Lake year after year is approved for $2 million from the Water Sustainability Fund. The LRNRD has committed an additional $1 million.

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