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 Central Platte NRD. 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 Southside Irrigation District produced needed returns back to the Platte River from both excess flows and natural flow diversions, as they were designed to do. Excess Platte River flows were diverted by Cozad Canal, Thirty Mile Canal, and South Side Irrigation canals in 2011, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017. The total diverted by the three canals was 61,243 AF and the computed recharge was 37,183 AF. In 2018, 1,487 AF were calculated to come back.
Watch our Canals: Conjunctive Management YouTube Video
August 2019 The recharge agreement with CNPPID changed the way CPNRD is paid for groundwater recharge via seepage through the Six Mile, Cozad, Thirty Mile and Orchard Alfalfa canals in the non-irrigation season. The total amount diverted will be measured by CPNRD using automated measuring and recording gates and adjusted by subtracting any deliveries or releases made and recorded by the irrigation district. The non-irrigation season will begin when the canals stop releasing water for irrigation and end when the canals begins releasing water for irrigation as determined by CPNRD.
September 2018 NeDNR approved the transfer of 14,251 AF of water to the Environmental Account. The transfer is part of CPNRD’s pilot surface water exchange agreement with Central Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation District (Central). The agreement states that during the 2018 irrigation season, CPNRD agrees not to deliver surface water to 25,491 acres from the three irrigation canals that CPNRD partners with (Cozad, Thirty Mile, & South Side canals) in exchange for Central crediting the Environmental Account with the resulting additional storage water in Lake McConaughy.
March 2018: The CPNRD board approved a purchase agreement to buy 157.4 acres of groundwater irrigated land located 6 miles southeast of Cozad, NE. Lyndon Vogt, general manager, said the purchase gives the NRD several options to provide recharge to the Platte River through the potential retirement of irrigated acres, transferring water from the South Side Irrigation District canal, and directly discharging flows into the river from an adjacent property. The NRD had the funds budgeted in anticipation of purchasing property to provide flows back to the river to meet requirements of the NRD’s Integrated Management Plan, the Basin-Wide Plan for Integrated Water Resources Management for over and fully appropriated areas in the Platte River Basin, and Nebraska’s New Depletions Plan.
Canal Rehabilitation Projects
This canal was the first canal that the NRD partnered with and the only canal that the NRD purchased with the intent to close it. After 116 years of use, landowners and farmers along the canal were eager to convert their land to groundwater use; which is more efficient and reliable than surface water. It also helps protect river flows and endangered species. The canal had been in place and diverting Platte River water since 1894, withdrawing an average of 2,377 acre-feet of water annually. FACT SHEET
The NRD partnered with Cozad Ditch Company in 2012 to manage the canal and to lease surface water as part of its efforts to increase Platte River flows and protect endangered species. The increased flow levels are required under the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program (PRRIP) and state law. Unused surface water flows are diverted from the irrigation canal back into the Platte River. The NRD also utilizes the canal after irrigation season to recharge excess Platte River flows when available.
By diverting the excess flows into the canal, water will recharge the aquifer and will filter back into the Platte River. The NRD helped fund a complete rehab of the canal to create a more efficient system. The canal has been in place diverting Platte River water since its water right was approved in 1894; with water rights to irrigate over 25,000 acres of land in the area between Gothenburg and Lexington in Dawson County. Grants from the Platte Basin Habitat Enhancement Program; which involves money from Platte Basin NRDs, the Nebraska Environmental Trust, and the state water management fund; paid for 60% of project costs. FACT SHEET | 2016 Excess Flow Return
Thirty-Mile Irrigation District
The CPNRD-Thirty Mile Canal Company purchase agreement is different in that the NRD purchased ownership in the amount of $2 million for half interest in the irrigation system. This includes 50% of Thirty Mile Irrigation District’s water rights and 50% of the value of buildings and equipment. The partners use the canals after irrigation season to hold diverted off-season excess Platte River flows when available.
Water seeps from the canals into groundwater that is hydrologically connected to the river and provides river enhancement credits. Grants from the Platte Basin Habitat Enhancement Program; which involves money from Platte Basin NRDs, the Nebraska Environmental Trust, and the state water management fund; paid for 60% of the project costs or $1.8 million. Thirty Mile project was constructed in 1927 and now has 52 structures including bridges, siphons, and culverts that will be replaced in the later phases. Photo to left: Mike Ostergard and Jim Harris, Canal Manager. FACT SHEET | 2016 Excess Flow Return
Southside Irrigation District (Orchard/Alfalfa Canal)
The NRD and Southside Irrigation District have a management-lease agreement for the Orchard/Alfalfa Canal. As part of the agreement, the CPNRD assists in operations for all of the irrigation district’s benefits and is responsible for half of the operations and maintenance costs. The NRD uses the canal after irrigation season to hold diverted off-season excess Platte River flows when available.
Water seeps from the canals into groundwater that is hydrologically connected to the river and provide river enhancement credits for Southside and the NRD. The project was funded through the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources Water Cash Fund at 60%, Southside Irrigation Company at 20% and Central Platte NRD at 20%. FACT SHEET | 2016 Excess Flow Return
The canal rehabs were developed as result of the NRD’s Water Banking Program; which began in January 2007 to try to reduce the need to regulate irrigators within the District. As part of the program, the NRD purchases water rights as a solution to balance water that is being used with water that is available. Two major programs required the NRD to find a solution– the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program (PRRIP) and Legislative Bill 962 (LB962).
The NRD must stay in compliance with both of these programs. Currently, the majority of the NRD is at its limit for water use, known as fully appropriated. The westernmost part of the District, above Elm Creek, is designated as over-appropriated; which requires the NRD to bring water back to a fully appropriated status. The Water Bank holds permanent easements on land accepted into the program and pays landowners to convert the irrigated land into dry land. If you are interested in selling water rights, contact Lyndon Vogt at (308) 385-6282 or email email@example.com.
Central Platte NRD’s water bank is the first to be implemented in Nebraska. At least three other Natural Resource Districts (NRDs) currently considering water banks in the Platte Basin, especially those that have been declared over-appropriated. These NRDs include the Twin Platte NRD in North Platte, the Tri-Basin NRD in Holdrege and the North Platte NRD in Gering.
In January 2007, the board of directors approved the first water bank transaction in the district by approving a variance request and the deposit of 2.4 acre-feet per year into the District’s water bank. Jim Bendfeldt made the donation of the offset water. The CPNRD Water Banking Policy was implemented in May 2007, which defines the process of a how the water bank works. Through the water bank program, the NRD acquires water rights from landowners. For every acre-foot of water that impacts the river that the NRD can acquire, there’s that much less regulation and cutback the NRD will have to impose
Water Bank Policies
POLICY: For every acre-foot of water impacting the river that can be acquired, there’s that much less regulation and cutback that would need to be imposed.
GOAL: Diminish the chance of having to regulate water users by acquiring water rights from willing landowners.
RESULTS: The NRD has spent $4.6 million to purchase water rights to return the over-appropriated area back to a fully appropriated status; resulting in 3,000 ac-ft of water returned to the Platte River.
* District will acquire water rights and uses from current users on a willing seller/willing buyer basis.
* Preferred method of acquisition is by perpetual conservation easements that control future uses.
* Temporary conservation easements, temporary leases, and fee title to the land will only be considered on a case-by-case basis, and only if advantageous to the interest of CPNRD and its residents.
* When acquiring water rights and uses to retire and place in the water bank, the NRD bases payment rate on impacts to the river.
* The higher the impact to the river, the more the value. In order to maximize the benefits of, and ensure uniformity and equity in benefits and costs, water rights and uses will be based upon a cost per acre-foot (AF)impact on the river.
* District buys perpetual conservation easements.
* Ownership stays with the current owner.
* Restrictions are placed on what may be grown- only dryland crops that aren’t sub-irrigated.
Target Areas The “over-appropriated” area above Elm Creek will be the highest priority area because replacement water needs are higher in areas designated as over-appropriated; and the location is in the upper end of the District and can serve offset requirements and needs for all agricultural, municipal and industrial uses downstream
The Need for A Water Bank
(This article was written when the Central Platte NRD board of directors were setting up the water bank.)
The concept of a “water bank” is new to us in the Central Platte NRD and to the state of Nebraska. That’s why the Board of Directors diligently discussed details about how a water bank should be set up and maintained. On May 24, 2007, the board approved the Central Platte NRD Water Banking Project which defines the process of a how a water bank will work.
Before going into the actual process, let’s first review why we need a water bank in the District. Two recent developments have made the establishment of a “water bank” of critical importance. The first began in 2004 when Nebraska adopted LB 962 that calls for the integrated management of surface water and groundwater. As part of the LB 962 process, the Platte Basin above Elm Creek, Nebraska was declared over-appropriated. Columbus to Elm Creek was designated as fully appropriated. With those designations, the NRDs and the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) are responsible for developing Integrated Management Plans (IMP) that would call for “no new uses” in the basin above Columbus that would negatively impact an existing surface water right or groundwater use. New uses could be allowed, but any depletion to existing rights and uses must be “offset” with water. Additionally, in the basin above Elm Creek, the IMP will have to replace or offset uses sufficient to return the basin to a fully-appropriated status; with the first increment of that effort being a return to 1997 levels (since this area has been designated as over-appropriated.) This too will require all the uses above and beyond a fully-appropriated status to be replaced or offset.
The second development was when Nebraska entered into the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program (PRRIP) in 2006 with the states of Wyoming and Colorado and the U.S. Department of Interior. The program calls for no new depletions to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service “target flows” and a return to the 1997 level of depletions. Again, new uses could be allowed, but any depletion must be offset with water. This replacement of water or “offset” can be accomplished in any one of three ways.
OPTIONS CONSIDERED: Purchase Water
Acquire water from outside the Central Platte NRD and transport it to the central Platte River.
Two Problems exist with this option:
- Where to get the water? Everyone around us that has water in any quantity has been declared over-appropriated, fully appropriated or is about to be designated as such.
- Cost. We would have to pay for the water itself and pay the cost to transport it to the central Platte River. It would be some distance, making the cost high.
OPTIONS CONSIDERED: Regulation
Regulate all current users to reduce the number of irrigated acres and other uses in a sufficient amount to replace the current and future excess depletion. This option treats everyone the same by requiring a uniform percentage of reduction in irrigated acres on every farm operation. Some “grouping” of areas that have similar conditions can be made, but equity becomes an issue if Group A is treated differently than Group B.
The primary problem with Option 2: Operators develop their labor and equipment based upon an operation of a certain size. A 5%, 10% or 15% reduction in the size of that operation reduces the efficiency of their labor force and/or their equipment; and opens up the question of what to do with the non-irrigated and non-sub-irrigated acres. Change equipment for dryland crop?
Inefficiencies with Option 2:
- Inefficiencies are built into this “regulation” option. These include how much land, and which lands, are retired to meet the required goal. Since not all of the lands impact the river the same amount, there will be acres retired that have both a large and a small impact on the river– even if areas that have similar features are “grouped.” The administration is also high on this option since every farm operation would have to be monitored for compliance.
Nevertheless, regulation must remain a viable option because it is one sure way of meeting the requirements of Nebraska law.
OPTIONS CONSIDERED: Water Right Acquisition
Acquire permanent easements from willing sellers to retire irrigated acres (and other uses) and convert the land or use to one that has a lesser impact on the river, thus increasing the flows. This option has the potential to be the most efficient in that it would likely attract odd size fields and oddly shaped tracts of land; such as pivot corners that are harder to farm and less efficient to irrigate. It also would favor those lands that have a larger impact on the river if the fee structure for the acquisition was set up based upon a uniform cost for each acre-foot of impact to the river.