Water Programs Update
The board approved a motion from the Water Quantity Committee to release a request for proposals to update the Groundwater Quantity Management Program. The committee discussed the water programs meetings held this month in Amherst and Kearney to address groundwater decline concerns in Sub-Area 9 of the NRD’s Groundwater Management Program in Buffalo and Dawson counties. Groundwater levels in northern Dawson and Buffalo counties are down on average 12.39 feet since the 1982 baseline year. Groundwater levels have continually declined in the area since 2001. Vogt made it clear that the decline needs to be stabilized.
An open discussion session provided area landowners and producers the opportunity to visit with the NRD about their concerns and to give their thoughts on management of the aquifer. Although the Central Platte NRD would prefer that landowners reach the goal to stabilize the groundwater decline in the area on their own, if groundwater levels continue to drop over the next few years then regulations would need to be implemented. The 300 landowners who have certified acres in the decline area were personally invited to the meetings as well as the public. A current groundwater level map can be found at: cpnrd.org/groundwater-quantity.
Groundwater Quantity Management
Central Platte NRD’s Groundwater Management Quantity goal is to assure an adequate supply of water for feasible and beneficial uses through proper management, conservation, development and utilization of the District’s water resources. CPNRD collects groundwater level observations and administers programs for irrigation runoff, groundwater quantity, groundwater quality, groundwater modeling, and is developing a surface water flow model for a comprehensive groundwater and surface water management program. Annual Water Use Summary
Policy Changes to the Groundwater Management Plan (as of November 2018)
*Irrigation New wells that irrigate new acres are not allowed. Supplemental & replacement wells are still allowed.
*Transfer Schedule Transfer applications for irrigated acres will be accepted from September 1st – March 1st.
*Sub-Area Transfer A sub-area is required to stay under the transfer limit rule for 5 consecutive years. Transfers & supplemental wells are not allowed until the sub-area groundwater level exceeds 25% of the maximum acceptable decline.
Reoperation of Surface Water Canals: Putting Water Back to the Platte River
The NRD has been proactive in creating new ways to increase irrigation efficiency, protect water supplies, and increase flows to the river in Dawson County by working with the canal companies in the area. The Canal Rehab Project was initiated by former general manager Ron Bishop as the first conjunctive water management project in the District. 2015 marked the first year that all three of CPNRD’s irrigation canal rehabilitations in Dawson County has been in full operation. The Cozad Ditch, Thirty Mile Irrigation District, and South Side Irrigation District produced needed returns back to the Platte River from both excess flows and natural flow diversions, as they were designed to do. History/Details of the Canal Rehabs
CPNRD Integrated Management Plan
November 2018 Update A draft CPNRD’s Integrated Management Plan (IMP) will be distributed to stakeholders at their final meeting on February 26, 2019. CPNRD & NeDNR’s Plan will follow the five goals set for the Basin-Wide Plan for Integrated Water Resources Management for fully and over-appropriated areas in the Platte River Basin:
Basin-Wide IMP Goals
- Incrementally achieve and sustain a fully appropriated condition, while maintaining economic viability, social and environmental health, safety, and welfare of the basin.
- Prevent or mitigate human-induced reductions in the flow of a river or stream that would cause non-compliance with an interstate compact or decree or other formal state contract or agreement.
- Partner with municipalities and industries to maximize conservation and water use efficiency.
- Work cooperatively to identify and investigate disputes between groundwater users and surface water appropriators and, if determined appropriate, implement management solutions to address such issues.
- Keep the Upper Platte River Basin-Wide Plan current and keep stakeholders informed.
The major change in CPNRD’s IMP second increment plan is the amount of water needed to comply with Nebraska’s New Depletion Plan. That Plan requires CPNRD to put water back into the Platte River to equal the level it was at in 1997. During the first increment, best science at the time showed that CPNRD needed to add 1,900 acre-feet to reach the 1997 level. With newer data, the Plan now requires CPNRD to return 17,000 acre-feet. The increase is due to depletions caused by the addition of 84,900 acres after 1997 in the District. CPNRD has several projects that will assist in meeting the second increment goals.
2018 Spring Groundwater Level Report
Static accumulated groundwater levels are up 0.54′ since spring of 2017 in the NRD. Levels are determined by measurements taken by NRD staff from 430 designated wells each year. Although the annual levels increased this year, 1982 to 2018 static groundwater levels are down 0.31′. See accumulated changes in groundwater levels since 1982- PDF download.
Implemented in 1987, Groundwater Management Plan established 24 sub-districts across the NRD for monitoring groundwater level changes. The 1982 levels were established as the standard for CPNRD’s Groundwater Management Plan with maximum acceptable declines and a margin of safety calculated for each of the District’s 24 Ground Water Management Areas (GWMA).
GWMA 9 continues to show annual declines measuring a decline of 12.39 feet in Buffalo County north of Kearney. This management area has had steady declines since 2000, dropping another quarter-foot since last spring despite timely rains during the 2017 growing season. If the water table would fall to 50 percent of the maximum decline, Phase II would go into effect requiring mandatory reductions in irrigated acres. Since the area extends into the Lower Loup NRD, the NRDs are jointly studying the groundwater declines more closely.
CPNRD staff measures up to 500 wells, twice a year, in conjunction with the Conservation & Survey Division, UNL and the US Geological Survey. The measurements are taken in all 11 counties served by the NRD to monitor the District’s groundwater levels including all of Dawson and parts of Frontier, Custer Buffalo, Hall, Howard, Nance, Merrick, Hamilton, Platte, and Polk.
Development of Groundwater Quantity Management Program
Nebraska leads the nation in irrigation production with over 8 million irrigated acres. Being in the Platte River Watershed, the District’s primary surface water feature is the Platte River. However, most farmers rely on groundwater for their irrigation needs since groundwater is abundantly available across the District. Water supply is under continuous monitoring throughout the District and a groundwater supply management plan to address potential shortages has been adopted by the NRD’s board of directors and has been in effect since 1987. Groundwater aquifer declines have been documented where irrigation use is the heaviest. Groundwater is the District’s chief source of drinking water and primary economic resource of the NRD since we depend on it for irrigation; which, in turn, enables us to have a strong economy rooted in agriculture.
If there was any doubt that we need to take care of this resource, it should’ve been dispelled by declining water tables in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Rainfall increased in the mid-1980s/1990s, which caused water tables to rise, but the historical record suggests complete groundwater recovery from the dry periods during the wet periods does not always occur in all areas. Careful management of the resource is necessary. Aquifer thickness varies from 25-300+ feet across the district, so a drop of one foot has a more significant impact on some parts of the District than on others. Groundwater depths and thicknesses are charted and used to help establish 24 groundwater supply management areas. Besides the aquifer conditions, the soils and topographic characteristics are similar in each management area.
The 1982 groundwater levels were established as the standard for the management plan since rainfall and recharge were above average several years since 1982. The maximum acceptable decline for each of the management areas was calculated, establishing a margin of safety in each area. It was determined that as an area’s average groundwater level declined through that margin of safety, certain controls ought to be mandated to slow the decline.
In 1987, the board established the Groundwater Management Plan with a phased program to implement controls when needed. The maximum acceptable decline ranges from 10’ in the eastern end of the District to 30’ in portions of the western end of the district. If the water table falls to 50% of that maximum decline (5 and 15 feet respectively for each of the range parameters), Phase II would go into effect for any area or areas affected, triggering mandatory reductions in irrigated acres and establishing spacing limits for new irrigation wells. Further declines to 70%, 90% & 100% of the maximum acceptable decline will trigger Phase III, IV and V controls respectively, mandating additional cutbacks in irrigated acreage and increased spacing limits for new wells.
Complete details of the controls are available in district publications. Because of the differences in the aquifer depth and conditions, it is conceivable that some areas could be in the higher phases while other areas may always be in Phase I.
Erosion & Sediment Control Plan (updated 2017)
CPNRD participates in the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program (PRRIP) with the states of Nebraska, Colorado, Wyoming and the Department of Interior to find a solution for endangered species in the Central Platte Basin; as well as water rights for the landowners/operators in the District. PRRIP was developed by the federal government along with the basin states of Nebraska, Colorado, and Wyoming and signed in 2006. Local, state and federal government agencies are working with groups from throughout the basin to build a framework for a long-term Program that will satisfy Endangered Species Act (ESA) requirements for water users in the basin. The first PRRIP increment, planned to last 13 years, includes completion of water projects expected to improve flows in the central Platte by an average of 130,000-150,000 ac/ft annually. A second Program element is the protection and maintenance of 10,000 acres of habitat during the first increment, ultimately working toward a 29,000-acre goal. The specifics of subsequent increments will be planned as more information is developed. Through an adaptive management process, the Program goals may be modified as appropriate. PRRIP WEBSITE
CPNRD has a big stake in the Program’s goal to improve and conserve habitat for three threatened and endangered species on the central Platte (the whooping crane, piping plover, and least tern) and the endangered pallid sturgeon on the lower Platte. The Program was developed as the states and federal governments face stiff challenges to protect threatened and endangered species using the Platte River and their habitats. The signatories to the Program hope to equitably provide greater certainty for water users facing ESA requirements. The U.S. FWS plays a major role in enforcing the ESA. Authorization legislation for federal funding was passed by Congress in 2008 and associated appropriations will be addressed in an ongoing process. District board members, management, and staff are actively involved in Program Governance and Advisory Committees.
The Program is starting to develop a plan for the review of the U.S. FWS’s target flows for the Platte River. Ongoing research and monitoring on the Platte are showing the Service’s current target flows to be ineffective in accomplishing the objectives they have set out. The Program’s Land Advisory Committee includes a member/alternate from CPNRD, member/alternate from Tri-Basin NRD, and a joint member/alternate. The Program’s Water Action Committee is looking at intentional groundwater recharge through diversions through the canal systems. One of the projects that were done in fall and winter 2011, was to study recharge in the Phelps Canal, one of CNPPID canals just below the J-2 Return. In 2013, the Program’s Governance Committee (GC) and CNPPID independently agreed to fund and develop the J2 Regulating Reservoirs at a cost of $13 million for five years.
In September 2015, CNPPID and its engineering contractor, RJH Consultants, Inc., provided the GC with a progress report on the development of the J2 Reservoirs Project which detailed significant increases in cost from the original estimate of $63 -$170 million, not including land acquisition. The GC authorized the Program’s Executive Director to work with CNPPID and NDNR to evaluate J2 Project alternatives that can be accomplished within the available budget. Central Platte, Twin Platte, and Tri-Basin NRDs each purchased a percentage of the Nebraska share. CPNRD purchased 20% of the State’s share (2,040 ac-ft annually) for just over $1.5 million. In July of 2016, the GC directed the project be put on hold until further notice while the PRRIP pursues other water project opportunities involving groundwater recharge, smaller scale storage projects, and water acquisition and transfer opportunities.
In 2016, a contract with CPNRD and Aqua Geo Frameworks LLC was approved by the board for aerial electro-magnetic survey work. The survey work includes additional coverage of flight lines to cover various project areas at a Program cost of $64,000.
Program Extension: In November 2016, the GC approved summary language for a Program First Increment Extension; which is set to expire at the end of 2019. In support of that effort, the Bureau of Reclamation is preparing for the required National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) environmental assessment process. The environmental assessment will evaluate a “No Action” alternative, the proposed extension alternative and possibly other alternatives. In addition, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service will need to develop a supplemental Biological Opinion (BO) in compliance with Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act. The BO will determine if the actions of the Program’s extension are likely to jeopardize the continued existence of the listed target species or adversely modify their critical habitat. These two separate federal processes are hoped to be completed by the fall or winter of 2018.
Plans for the next water supply projects to replacing the J2 Reservoir Project: Land rights efforts are underway, an engineering contractor has been hired, preliminary infrastructure designs are being developed, and necessary state and federal permits are being obtained. Demonstration water projects being planned include a broad-scale recharge project on NPPD’s Cottonwood Ranch property and slurry-wall sandpits in the Overton-Elm Creek area. These initial efforts could be under construction by late 2018 or early 2019 and would be the first of several such projects needed to meet Program water goals.
Contact Mark Czaplewski, biologist.