Four natural resource districts are joining forces for a project that will increase water flows to the Republican and Platte Rivers, both crucial to Nebraska farmers and subject to water-usage agreements with other states.
LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - District officials have agreed to buy farmland in Lincoln County, south of North Platte, and retire about 15,800 acres from production.
The move will allow them to save water that would otherwise be used for irrigation and ship it down to the rivers when it's needed to make sure Nebraska stays in compliance with interstate water agreements. The districts are expected to split the $83 million cost, which includes buying the property and laying an estimated 17 miles of pipeline to carry the water to both rivers.
"This historic water project is unprecedented for Nebraska," said Dean Edson, executive director of the Nebraska Association of Natural Resource Districts. Edson called the project "a long-term solution for each and every Nebraskan, no matter where they live."
The project could add 14.7 billion gallons to both rivers in years when Nebraska is short of what's needed to stay in compliance with interstate water agreements.
Nebraska is subject to the Republican River Compact, a water-sharing agreement with Kansas and Colorado. The 1943 river compact allocates 49 percent of the river's water to Nebraska, 40 percent to Kansas and 11 percent to Colorado. Nebraska and Kansas have tangled in court in recent years over allegations that Nebraska used more than its fair share. Nebraska taxpayers could be liable for Kansas' economic losses if the lawsuit succeeds, and farmers might have to shut down irrigation along hundreds of thousands of acres near the river.
The project will not affect the lawsuit, but is expected to help close most of the gap in exceptionally dry years that can lead to water shutoffs for irrigators, who are then forced to rely on rainfall.
Nebraska also has signed onto the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program, a 1997 agreement with Colorado and Wyoming to help preserve the river ecosystem. District officials said the water saved through the project will also help them meet their obligations under the agreement.
District officials said Nebraska irrigators will pay for the project, likely through a $4- to $6 per-acre occupation tax on irrigated land. But that amount won't be added to the rate paid in districts that already impose a $10-per-acre tax, the maximum allowed under state law.
The partnership includes the Middle Republican, Upper Republican, Lower Republican and Twin Platte NRDs. The farmland will likely be converted back to native rangeland.
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