HOLDREGE — A new program offering incentives for irrigators to use less water was expanded Tuesday by the Tri-Basin Natural Resources District Board.

Tri-Basin launched its Water Conservation Incentive Program in March with a focus on groundwater irrigators. Now, it also will be offered to irrigators in Gosper, Phelps and Kearney counties with co-mingled — groundwater and surface water — irrigation systems.

According to an NRD overview, a goal is to encourage participants to be more efficient irrigators, while helping to sustain groundwater supplies.

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Tri-Basin General Manager John Thorburn said in the overview the goal in expanding WCIP to Central Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation District customers is to encourage them to use surface water instead of groundwater on comingled fields to reduce pumping and increase groundwater recharge.

There were 1,449 groundwater-irrigated acres enrolled in WCIP for the 2019 growing season, which Thorburn said served as a pilot project.

For 2020, up to 8,000 NRD-certified irrigated acres may be enrolled, which the Tri-Basin overview says could save up to 650 acre-feet of water per year.

Participants sign five-year agreements and are paid up to $5 per acre per year for the equivalent of one acre-inch of credit. Credits are issued for using less irrigation than a county’s per-acre average for corn, based on University of Nebraska-Lincoln findings: Kearney County, 9 inches; Phelps County, 10 inches; and Gosper County, 11 inches.

Thorburn said participants are guaranteed payments for one inch of credit per year, although that may be different in areas of the NRD under allocations or other groundwater quantity management rules.

Also, WCIP participants may sell their water credits on the open market, subject to Tri-Basin board approval.

Find more details about WCIP at tribasinnrd.org or visit the NRD office in Holdrege.

In other business Tuesday, the board approved a $19,395 contract with Alpha Heating and Air Conditioning in Holdrege to install a radiant heat system in the former Holdrege Armory building. Tri-Basin purchased the building primarily for equipment maintenance and storage use.

Also, NRD Land Resources coordinator Nate Munter updated the board on ongoing repairs to flood-damaged areas along creeks in northern Kearney County.