eastern Phelps County and western Kearney County, flood issues

The next step to address flooding issues in parts of eastern Phelps County and western Kearney County, which were extreme last July, will be taken at the Feb. 11 Tri-Basin NRD board meeting in Holdrege. A 1:30 p.m. public hearing is set on a proposal to create drainage improvement projects in the Lower North Dry Creek and Lost Creek watersheds.

HOLDREGE — It’s feast or famine for water supplies in parts of the Tri-Basin Natural Resources District with solutions needed to address flooding and declining groundwater problems.

At Tuesday’s Tri-Basin board meeting, two public hearings were scheduled at 1:30 p.m. Feb. 11, ahead of the next regular board meeting at the NRD office in Holdrege.

One will help the board decide if two new drainage improvement project areas — 22,314 acres in the Lower North Dry Creek watershed in Phelps and Kearney counties, and 10,596 acres in western Kearney County’s Lost Creek watershed — will be created.

In August, 20 landowners from those areas asked the board for help to resolve flooding in farm fields. Several described extreme damage from the exceptional early July flood, but added that rains of even a few inches also cause flooding.

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They completed the first step for new IPAs by submitting landowner-signed petitions that were presented to the Tri-Basin board in September.

General Manager John Thorburn said Tuesday the board will decide after the Feb. 11 public hearing whether to proceed to the next step — a vote by landowners within the proposed projects on whether to create the IPAs.

For each property, units of benefit will be assigned proportional to the amount of land and project benefits. Thorburn said assessment rates suggested by the board’s Projects and Construction Committee are $3 per unit for irrigated cropland and livestock confinements, $2 for dryland, and nothing for rangeland.

Those payments would reimburse the NRD for project construction and maintenance costs.

“Because these are pretty big projects, they probably would be done in phases,” Thorburn said, with help from a professional engineer to identify the elements and order of completion.

The other public hearing ahead of the Feb. 11 board meeting will be on the final draft of an integrated (surface water and groundwater) management plan for the Little Blue watershed in eastern Kearney County and western Adams County.

The proposed plan was developed by the Tri-Basin and Little Blue NRDs with the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources.

DNR integrated water management analyst Amy Zoller said at Tuesday’s Tri-Basin meeting the plan “has been thoroughly reviewed by our staff.”

Thorburn added that there was a lot of input from stakeholders, who will receive copies of the draft plan ahead of the public hearing. He described it as a starting point and a road map.

However, some Kearney County landowners remain concerned that they could face more strict groundwater management rules to address the declines than will neighbors in Adams County.

Terry Sorensen of Minden said Tuesday he is glad work was done on the plan, including studies to better understand the watershed and its issues, but he doesn’t think anything will come from it because “we (in Tri-Basin) are very much different in opinion than in the Little Blue.”

Sorensen later told the Hub a big gap remains between the two NRDs’ water management philosophies to address groundwater declines, even though farmers share the same water basin.

Also Tuesday, the Tri-Basin board approved a Building Committee recommendation to accept low bids received for three projects — install natural gas lines, install an electrical line to a tree cooler and asbestos abatement — at the former National Guard armory in Holdrege.

Tri-Basin purchased the armory, built in 1954-55 as one of the first U.S. buildings constructed with pre-cast concrete panels, to use for equipment maintenance and storage.

Thorburn asked board members to suggest additional companies willing to submit bids for the armory projects.

He also reported on projects in the Platte and Republican basins.

Thorburn said he would meet this morning with Platte River Recovery Implementation Program officials about potential use of groundwater wells to augment river flows.

He also told the board he will get more information about possibly purchasing credits from the Central Platte NRD to help meet Tri-Basin’s augmentation obligations.