KEARNEY, Neb. — One of the biggest ideas yet to address streamflow matters in the Platte River basin was broached Wednesday by the Central Platte and Twin Platte Natural Resources Districts at a meeting in Kearney.
The NRDs propose to offer incentives to Central Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation District officials and irrigators to convert most of the district’s irrigated acres from surface water to groundwater use.
Then the canal system would be used for groundwater recharge. The existing canals would hold water in off seasons, with seepage providing groundwater recharge to cover the additional groundwater irrigation use, said Central Platte NRD General Manager Ron Bishop of Grand Island.
Central Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation District General Manager Don Kraus of Holdrege said he had no idea how the proposal might affect his district’s irrigation or hydropower operations, because he had seen only a press release on the plan.
“At this point, we just don’t know anything,” he said.
Kraus said his agency has a history of conjunctive management activities dating back to rehabilitation work on the E65 and Phelps canals in the 1970s.
Bishop said benefits of the proposed changes to the agency’s operations would be less evaporation than occurs when irrigation water is diverted and delivered in the heat of summer; more water in Central’s reservoirs; and additional river benefits from groundwater hydrologically connected to the river or its tributaries.
Bishop said the idea probably wouldn’t work for land on the west end of the agency’s system because the area doesn’t lend itself to groundwater recharge. However, all or a big part of land along the E65 and Phelps canals could be converted, Bishop said.
Based on an analysis done for the Central Platte NRD and North Platte-based Twin Platte NRD, 100,000 of Central Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation District-irrigated acres could be converted.
The project delivers irrigation water to 112,000 acres, 105,000 of those in the primary service area in northern Gosper, Phelps and Kearney Counties.
Kraus said his agency has storage and natural flow water rights on those 105,000 acres, and he can only assume the NRDs’ proposal would involve a transfer of rights to a different purpose. He added that 75 percent of the agency’s irrigators use both groundwater and surface water.