Another Nebraska natural resources district is proposing that any operator of a well pumping more than 50 gallons per minute install a flow meter on that well.
The decision by the Little Blue NRD board of directors is based on gradually falling groundwater levels and increased nitrate levels across the district, says Mike Onnen, the NRD's general manager.
The board's current proposal will be presented to the public at a public hearing before board members vote on the revised rules and regulations.
Groundwater levels in the Little Blue NRD declined about 4-1/4 feet from predevelopment to 1974 when the NRD assumed recording data. According to Onnen, the average water levels have dropped an additional 5-3/4 feet from 1974 to 2013, a total average decline of 10 feet across the NRD since predevelopment levels. Some areas are down as much as 20 feet, while other areas of the district have shown little decline.
Many new irrigation systems are equipped with water conservation technology, and some producers are using soil moisture sensors and other new technology to reduce water applications. However, there are still inefficient gravity systems in use, some irrigation systems are equipped with inefficient dump valves and end guns, and water waste and conservation are still occurring, Onnen says.
"We can't predict an accurate water budget or manage the water resources properly unless we know what is being withdrawn," he adds.
Nitrate levels are also rising district-wide since the early 1990s when the NRD began taking nitrate readings. Nearly every municipality has seen an increase in nitrates over the years of recording. "In Hastings, for instance, nitrate levels averaged about 1.5 parts per million in 1960, 4 ppm in 1990, and today they are approaching 8.5 ppm. The rates have been accelerating in the last 10 years.
Rising groundwater nitrates are attributed primarily to agricultural fertilizer applications, either from an earlier period of time or more recent activity. Overirrigation is a significant factor which can cause nitrates to percolate below the root zone, Onnen says.
The district board has proposed the following timeline for action.
The NRD will require that all owners/operators record and report their total water use for 2014 crop year by either using a flow meter, an hour meter, estimated pumpage rate, or other district approved method. Pumpage reports would also be required from the owners of all businesses and industries as well as livestock, fish and wildlife, recreation users and municipalities who operate any high capacity wells or series of wells designed to pump more than 50 gpm. Initial reports will be due by Jan. 15, 2015.
All active high-capacity water wells within the Little Blue NRD will be required to have an approved flow meter installed and operational by March 2017, according to a tentative schedule approved by the board.
If producers have meters that need repair, can call the NRD office at 402-364-2145 as soon as possible so staff can retrieve and fix the meter this winter. Cost of parts for meters will be billed to the operator.
The groundwater user will also be required to report the number and location of all irrigated acres owned or under their control and all associated well registration numbers. The number of irrigated acres will be determined by using USDA Farm Service Agency records (if available), county assessor records, aerial photographs and any other available relevant information.
After this process has been completed, any person who wishes to develop land for irrigation purposes or otherwise modify his certified irrigated acres will file an updated irrigation acre report, according to Onnen.
The NRD board has decided not to cost share for flow meter purchases or installation.
Penalties will be imposed for failing to comply with District rules and regulations, he says.
"We are recognizing that our groundwater supply has an ever-increasing value to our property values and economy here in the state," says Onnen. "We simply can't afford to overuse or contaminate the resource that sustains our way of life."