NORFOLK, Neb. (AP) — A Nebraska natural resources district may impose limits on irrigation in the wake of drought conditions and declining water levels.
Irrigation controls are now under consideration in three areas of the Lower Elkhorn Natural Resources District. The proposal would affect irrigators in some townships in Wayne, Madison and Pierce Counties.
The district’s governing board directed staff members last month to create a plan to deal with the growing number of conflicts between high-volume irrigation wells and domestic wells drawn down by their neighbors’ pumping.
The discussion was also prompted by measurements that showed all 243 irrigation wells monitored by the district had water levels lower than one year ago. One-third of the wells have reached all-time lows.
Rod Zessin, a Madison farmer who sits on the district board, said the Nebraska Legislature has directed natural resources districts to manage groundwater so that it’s available for everyone.
“That’s why we’re here — to make sure everybody has some water available for a long time to come,” Zessin said.
More than 150 people attended a district meeting late last week, and 15 spoke against the idea of regulating irrigation to the extent the rules would enable. One person spoke in support of the concept.
Jovan Lausterer, the district’s attorney, said the controls are written into state statutes. They provide as much flexibility as possible, giving the board a range of tools to adjust to specific circumstances in each area.
“By no means are you obligated to include all these controls,” Lausterer said.
The board already has voted not to allow any new groundwater irrigation next year throughout the district.
The board has a range of options to control water usage in the three areas. Board members may choose to limit irrigation, rotate irrigation by requiring that pumps be turned off for a period of time, or require measuring devices on the wells.