LINCOLN (AP) — Heavy pumping by Nebraska irrigators, cities and water districts during the drought is beginning to show up in spring readings of groundwater levels, officials say.
For example, the York-based Upper Big Blue Natural Resources District reported an average decline of nearly 4.4 feet in the past year.
“It is the steepest (one-year) decline that we have seen since we have been measuring wells,” John Turnbull, general manager of the York-based district, said.
More readings from other districts will be forwarded to the state over the next several weeks as they complete their checks before the growing season.
The Upper Big Blue district readings came from 514 monitoring wells drilled in Adams, Butler, Clay, Fillmore, Hamilton, Polk, Saline, Seward and York Counties. The district contains 1.18 million irrigated acres, served by about 12,000 wells. Stream water is used on about 7,500 acres.
Irrigators who relied on groundwater pumped an average of 12.2 inches onto their fields, Turnbull said.
“We realize that the drop has occurred because of the drought last year. We just didn't have any kind of rainfall during the growing season,” he said.
He's not worried about having to limit the pumping, because the groundwater is about 3 feet above the point where the district would have to require the use of flow meters and allocate water.
The district's groundwater levels have fluctuated over the years for a number of reasons, including drought and conservation efforts. Between 1961 and 1980, district records show, the overall decline was 7 feet.
The highest reading was recorded in 1999, when levels were 7 feet above the benchmark 1961 level, Turnbull said.
Recent rains have improved topsoil moisture for spring planting but haven't done anything to replenish groundwater, he said.
“If we get good rains in May and June it will make a world of difference and put us in good shape,” he said.
Missouri River basin still drier than normal
Despite wet weather in April, the amount of water flowing into the Missouri River remains below normal because of slow runoff and the ongoing drought.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said Wednesday that the cold weather reduced the amount of runoff from snowmelt in the past month.
The corps is predicting the amount of runoff flowing into the river basin this spring to be about 79 percent of normal, so drought conservation measures will continue.
The corps' Jody Farhat said conditions in the basin can change quickly and some areas could see flooding after heavy rains.
The amount of water released out of Gavins Point Dam on the South Dakota-Nebraska border averaged 17,800 cubic feet per second in April. — AP
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