Republican River conservation plan sparks controversy

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December 25th, 2010

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Lincoln, NE – Residents of south central Nebraska are being asked to consider a new plan for saving Republican River water.

The plan’s being considered by the Lower Republican Natural Resource District, which stretches more than 100 miles through five counties on the Kansas border. It proposes to cut the maximum pumping for irrigation purposes by 20% over the next five years. That would be part of the state’s effort to let enough Republican River water flow downstream to Kansas. But the proposal is contingent on the Middle and Upper Republican NRDs upstream also adopting plans that are acceptable to the lower Republican. It says the upstream NRDs need to adopt plans that would restore water levels in the Ogallala aquifer to within 10 feet of where they were before large scale irrigation was developed.

In some areas, those water levels have dropped more than 60 feet. Upper Republican General Manager Jasper Fanning says the Lower Republican proposal could require essentially shutting off irrigation in all or part of seven counties.

“In our natural resource district and in the Middle Republican as well, it would be absolutely devastating,” said Fanning.

“A large part of the rural economy is dependent on irrigation and continuing to irrigate and certainly shutting off that piece of the economy would have wide, sweeping effects throughout the region.”

Lower Republican Manager Mike Clements said the plan focuses on what’s sustainable in the long run. He said drastic cuts in the amount of water allocated for irrigation is the first step. And he said its unfair to guarantee Kansas its water by cutting off irrigators close to the river. But Clements said it’s unfair to his district, since there are more farms close to the river there than upstream.

“We would just like to see equity within the basin,” said Clements. “And in our district we’d like to see equity as much as possible within our own water users. I don’t want to see anybody left high and dry. We want to see everyone treated fairly…”

A public hearing on the plan is scheduled for January 13th in Alma. The state still have the power to approve or disapprove. But the plan itself says the Lower Republican thinks at least some of Nebraska’s laws regulating groundwater are unconstitutional, and reserves the right to challenge them in court.

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