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6/17/2013 1:39:36 PM

Lower Republican NRD Makes Final Payment on 2007 State Loan for Water Purchases


Lori Potter, The Kearney Hub

ALMA, Neb., June 15, 2013 — The Lower Republican Natural Resources District will make a final payment to the state for its share of a 2007 loan to purchase water from irrigation districts.

LRNRD General Manager Mike Clements said the NRD board approved the $1.48 million payment at its meeting Thursday in Alma.

In 2007, the Upper, Middle and Lower Republican NRDs purchased water from Republican Basin irrigation districts to send to Kansas for Republican River Compact compliance. When a lawsuit halted the NRDs' plans to issue bonds, the state loaned them about $8.5 million to pay the irrigation districts.

The Nebraska Legislature has since approved bills allowing Republican Basin NRDs to levy occupation taxes on irrigated acres to generate revenue for compact compliance projects.

Meanwhile, Clements said no progress has been made on the Nebraska Cooperative Republican Platte Enhancement Project, or NCORPE, in southern Lincoln County because of a delay in getting a bond rating.

The project would use groundwater to augment flows in the Republican and Platte rivers. NCORPE members are the Upper, Middle and Lower Republican NRDs and Twin Platte NRD.

LRNRD officials had hoped Ameritas would have issued a rating by now for $25 million in bonds to cover the LRNRD’s share of the cost to purchase a 19,300-acre Lincoln County farm, of which 16,000 acres are irrigated. The bonds would be paid off over time with occupation tax revenues.

The project includes installing new wells and pipelines to put groundwater into tributaries of the two rivers. The Republican Basin will get 75 percent of the water via Medicine Creek.

The overall goal is to use that water, other augmentation projects and conservation to maintain enough water in Harlan County Lake to avoid triggering water-short-year requirements for compact compliance.

In his June manager’s report, Clements said it was hoped that the bonds could be sold by June 10 and a pipeline construction contract would be awarded around July 10. He said this morning he’s still waiting for the bond rating.

The delay also means the LRNRD can’t get local funding for pipeline construction because that debt also would be repaid by issuing bonds, once a pending lawsuit is resolved.

Frenchman-Cambridge and Nebraska Bostwick Irrigation districts filed a lawsuit Dec. 28, 2012, in U.S. District Court that argues, in part that:

— NRD, state and federal officials haven’t done enough to protect the irrigation districts’ surface water rights, specifically not controlling overuse of groundwater.

— NCORPE water would bypass the districts and federal reservoirs in which their water is stored. The additional water going into Harlan County Lake would not benefit the Bostwick District because it would be released down the Republican River to Kansas for compact compliance.

— Transporting groundwater to benefit streamflows into another state is not one of the three uses of aquifer water — human consumption by Nebraskans, irrigation for agriculture or industrial uses — authorized by the Nebraska Constitution or Groundwater Management & Protection Act.

Clements said the defendants are waiting for the judge to rule on their motion to dismiss the lawsuit.

In other business Thursday, the LRNRD board extended from May 15 to March 1 the deadline for all existing irrigation wells to have more accurate mechanical type flowmeters. Irrigators have said they need more time because it’s difficult to get the required meters and to find someone to install them.

Clements said NRD rules already require mechanical meters on new wells.

 

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