Posted 8 months ago
By John Axtell
The Upper Niobrara White Natural Resources District board heard nearly 3 hours of testimony yesterday in Chadron on proposed changes in its groundwater management rules, nearly all of it against the changes.
Over 125 people attended and about dozen testified on the rules putting limits district-wide on the amount of water an irrigator can pump.
Two of the NRD’s 6 sub-areas…Box Butte County and Mirage Flats…currently have limits of an average of 13-1/2″ a year over a 4-year period, which would drop to 13″ over 5 years. The other 4 sub-areas do not now have allotments, but would be limited to 15″ over 5 years under the proposal.
A group of landowners from all 6 subdistricts organized opposition, taking out ads and handing out 4″ fluorescent yellow stickers reading “against” at the meeting. Most of the objections raised at the meeting had been raised at earlier times and stemmed from the extending irrigation limits and further reducing alloments in Box Butte County and Mirage Flats.
Andy Curd of rural Chadron and Mike Machada…general manager of a ranch with irrigated acres in 4 counties were the leaders of the landowners group and testified first…calling the changes premature and unnecessary, a one-size-fits-all approach that has no basis in science and doesn’t follow the district’s groundwater plan or integrated management plans
Both emphasized the plans have trigger points for imposing pumping limits are based on 1990 aquifer levels, and that that 4 sub-areas without limits have not reached those points and are generally higher than the 1990 levels because farmers and ranchers have adopted a wide range of water reduction and conservation practices.
They and other testifiers said the proposed limits would hurt producers of more water-intensive crops such as alfalfa, corn, sugar beets, and beans…with rancher Tom Marcy of rural Hay Springs calling them potentially “devastating” to the area economy.
Attorney Dan Skavdahl, representing a group of Sioux County residents, warned the NRD board that it might face legal challenges if it adopted the proposed changes because they didn’t appear to be based on data and science or to be in the best interests of the public.
The few individuals who did support the proposed restrictions questioned whether the producers against them had taken full advantage of opportunities provided by the NRD to maximize yields while best-utilizing their water resources.
Those on both sides, even those most critical of the Upper Niobrara White board for proposing the changes, did thank the board for giving them the opportunity to be heard and to make their concerns known in person.
The NRD board will accept written testimony from the public through the end of the day next Monday, March 10. A final decision will come at a later meeting, with no date scheduled as yet.