KEARNEY — State and federal water management officials gave updates Tuesday on projects and issues, including several in the Platte and Republican basins, at this week’s joint convention of the Nebraska State Irrigation and Nebraska Water Resources associations in Kearney.
Nebraska Department of Natural Resources Assistant Director Jesse Bradley started his overview with the proposed Platte-Republican Diversion Project.
The goal is to help the Tri-Basin and Lower Republican natural resources districts meet requirements to offset irrigation impacts to the Republican River as part of Nebraska’s Republican River Compact compliance.
The plan is to divert excess Platte water, when available, from Central Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation District’s E65 Canal into a pipeline under the Nebraska, Kansas & Colorado Railnet tracks and Highway 23 west of Smithfield. It then would flow into the east branch of Turkey Creek for transport to the Republican River between Edison and Oxford.
The NRDs purchased 332 acres at Turkey Creek Canyon earlier this year for $550,000. DNR required diversion point property ownership before a water permit application would be considered.
Of the 100 permit objections filed with DNR, Bradley said many were from Kansans concerned about the possible transfer of invasive plants and/or fish from the Platte Basin.
There were seven formal objections, which means a public hearing is required. Updates on the permit process status are posted at dnr.nebraska.gov/surface-water/transbasin-diversion.
“Things in the Republican Basin ... have really started to improve there,” Bradley said.
Public hearings on a basinwide integrated water management plan were last week, he said, and, in general, there was no opposition.
On the interstate level, a case involving Colorado’s compact compliance failures in past years was settled out of court. Bradley said Nebraska’s $4 million settlement share will be invested in Republican Basin projects.
“We’re looking at better ways to manage the water in that basin, especially at the lower end. We’re working with the Nebraska Bostwick Irrigation District on that,” he said, referring to the surface water irrigation project between Harlan County Reservoir and the Kansas state line.
Five Upper Platte — Kearney west — NRDs are working on a drought plan that should be ready by early 2019 for public hearings.
Bradley said another DNR focus is supporting efforts to extend the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program’s first increment, which expires at the end of 2019.
In the Lower Platte Basin, seven NRDs and DNR are in the second year of implementing a basin integrated water management plan. Individual NRD plans are nearly done.
Also nearly done is an initial plan for the Little Blue NRD adjacent to Tri-Basin’s and Lower Republican’s east borders.
Bureau of Reclamation
Aaron Thompson, manager of the bureau’s Nebraska-Kansas Area office in McCook, reviewed funding available for water conservation and/or recreation projects.
The management area is comprised of Nebraska, except the North Platte Project Area in eastern Wyoming and the Nebraska Panhandle; northern Kansas within the Missouri River drainage basin; and a part of northeast Colorado that includes Bonny Reservoir.
The agency’s irrigation projects provide water for more than 250,000 acres in Nebraska on which annual crop production is valued at an estimated $170 million.
Other project benefits include flood control, municipal and industrial water, recreation, and fish and wildlife habitat.
Water grant options
WaterSMART, done with DNR, can provide 50 percent cost shares of $75,000-$1 million for small- and large-scale water projects.
“If you have a project that is going to save water or use water more efficiently ... you have the ability to look at WaterSMART,” Thompson said, adding that three Republican Basin NRDs have made use of the grant program.
Another cost-share program, Title 28, focuses on recreation projects.
Thompson listed the expected 2019 per-acre water supplies for Republican Basin irrigation districts, including 8 inches for Nebraska Bostwick and 7.5 inches for Frenchman-Cambridge. Both were at 4.5 inches in 2018.
He said Harlan County Lake held 231,605 acre-feet of water on Oct. 31 — 74 percent of full — which compared to 218,284 a year earlier.
“We’re a little bit ahead of last year, which is good for compact compliance and for keeping harmony,” Thompson said.
He added that bureau officials are working with the Nebraska and Kansas Bostwick Irrigation districts on ways to manage water differently, including setting targets or limits for different allocations.
Other panelists Tuesday were David Miesbach of the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality, Steve Peterson of the U.S. Geological Survey in Nebraska and Michelle Koch of the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.