LB 48 protects surface water appropriators

SCOTTSBLUFF, Neb.-The North Platte Natural Resources District Board of Directors and I thank Senator John Stinner for introducing LB 48.

The North Platte NRD continually seeks to partner with surface water users in our District to meet our integrated management obligations and return water to the North Platte River to mitigate depletions. These partnerships have been both indirect and direct in nature. Indirectly, the North Platte NRD has been the beneficiary of several thousand acres’ enrollment in the Nebraska Platte-Republican Resources Area Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) within its boundaries. These contracts have significantly reduced the consumptive use of irrigation water. Direct partnerships include temporary leases of natural flow surface water appropriations for stream augmentation or for intentional recharge in surface water pits constructed on the lands within the boundaries of the impacted irrigation district or canal company. 

The vast majority of CREP contracts are set to expire in 2020, and while there is likely a strong interest amongst landowners in renewal for an additional 15 years, current law requires that the lands under contract be put back into irrigated production for at least one year before renewal. LB 48 eliminates that requirement and extends the protection of their water right for 30 years. This change would provide for much more favorable consideration of renewal of the CREP contract by landowners.

Additionally, under current law, the District is limited to a five-year lease agreement with surface water users. Existing language of § 46-229.04 does not include local NRD programs as a sufficient reason that a surface water appropriation may not be used for longer than five years. As a result, the benefits of transferring surface water to stream augmentation uses or for intentional recharge are also limited. LB 48 clarifies that participation in a natural resources district program, would also count as sufficient reason not to use a surface water appropriation for its original use for a period of up to thirty years. LB 48 would give this District greater flexibility to negotiate longer-term agreements with willing surface water partners, without those partners being in danger of losing their surface water appropriation. 

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