NPNRD helps producers with cost sharing programs

Mark Delap/Business Farmer

WYOBRASKA – As planting season continues and the temperature heats up, it’s important to keep in mind what exactly is going into your field. The North Platte Natural Resource District (NPNRD) has several different programs to help.

The Nebraska Ground Water Management and Protection Act (LB 962) was passed in 2004. Several programs were implemented as a result of the passage of LB 962. One of these programs, the Back to the River Project, began after the area was designated as an over appropriated river basin.

Scott Schanemen, assistant manager at the NPNRD, said, “With the implementation of LB 962, it became a requirement of this NRD to provide back to the river a certain number of acre feet based on our overuse. This NRD started looking for ways to mitigate the pumping that we were over appropriated in. We did a multitude of different things and the ‘Back to the River’ project was one of them.”

John Berge, General Manager at the NPNRD, said the goal was to return 8,000-acre feet of water back to the river every year and reduce the consumptive water use in the district.

One project used to accomplish this goal is the Minatare Canal Return Project.

“What we had done was leased some acres underneath the Minatare mutual canal. And we are returning back to the river the consumptive use, the annual historical consumptive use of those farms, leaving the carriage water in the ditch to benefit the ditch. So, anything that farm was using consumptively, like for evaporation and transpiration, and those kinds of calculations were figured, and that is what we actually put in the pipeline to send back to the river,” said Schanemen.

Another program that helps with this project is called the Encouraging Producer Innovation through Conservation (EPIC) program. EPIC is a buyback of allocated water for groundwater pumpers.

Regulation of groundwater usage was another program the NPNRD implemented starting in 2008 to help accomplish this goal.

“What they did, ultimately, was they set the allocation at a deficit level of irrigation of 14 inches per year, in the North Platte River Valley, and 12 inches per year in the Pumpkin Creek Basin,” said Berge.

Berge stated producers have gotten more efficient with growing and that we, at last check, had a credit of about 23,000-acre feet.

A big part of this project is flow meters. Beginning in 2007, every certified acre that had a well on it had to have a flow meter. The NPNRD began a flow meter maintenance program to help producers with this requirement.

Schanemen said, “A flow meter is just a mechanical tool and with mechanical tools, they tend to wear out. Being proactive, the board set up a policy where we have the opportunity to maintain flow meters for landowners in our district, our producers.”

Schanemen went on to state that meters are maintained on a five-year rotation and the NPNRD does this at a reduced cost. The NPNRD is also a McCrometer Inc. Certified Service Center.

The NPNRD also monitors nitrate levels in groundwater.

“There are two things at play. The first is that high nitrates, anything over 10 parts per million, can cause very, very significant health problems. It can cause blueberry baby syndrome in children, which means that those babies and toddlers are not able to absorb oxygen into their blood system and ultimately, that can kill you. Or it can cause a number of different kinds of juvenile cancers that can cause kidney cancer and people our age,” said Berge. “But then there's also the economic cost, so that when John Berge Farms, or Anna Farms Inc., is applying their fertilizer and they're doing so without recognizing the credits that might exist in the soil or the water, they're throwing away bad money after good by applying what they have always applied even though there is no crop that will uptake that nitrogen. Any nitrogen that is not taken up by the crop will ultimately leach down into the groundwater creating this sort of cycle.”

Berge mentioned, when arsenic treatment facilities were installed or well fields were moved due to arsenic levels in the early 2000s, the cost was around $75 million. That means in addition to the economic cost for producers, there is also an economic cost for taxpayers if nitrate levels go unchecked.

Schanemen mentioned it is important to look at every piece of the puzzle.

“One of the biggest reasons for changing the way we look at things and the way we do things and the way we mitigate for these contaminants is the protection of our well fields. Every one of these communities along the river have had to go look for new water sources. That's expensive,” said Schanemen. “The community of Oshkosh has had to go eight miles north to find water that suitable for their residents, costs millions of dollars. They're piping that water from way up north of Oshkosh down to the city.”

The NPNRD is helping with this by cost sharing precision irrigation, chemigation, and stabilizers, and the maintenance and purchase of flow meters. Cover cropping also has an incentive program.

Well sampling is a way to monitor both water quantity and quality. “We have a monitoring well network that at its apex was 805 monitoring wells, or there abouts. Right now, we probably rely on about, I would say, 780 or so at least. That is, just to give you some context, that is more monitoring wells than the entire state of Georgia, and more monitoring wells than any other NRD in the state,” said Berge.

Berge mentioned the NPNRD can have your well water tested for free. Berge said, “If you've got a domestic well at home and you're worried about what it is you're consuming, bring it up here and we'll take care of it.”

The NPNRD also will also cost share the decommissioning of abandoned or unused wells.

For more information on any of these programs, visit the NPNRD office in person at 100547 Airport Rd in Scottsbluff or call 308-632-2749.

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