Upper Big Blue NRD Water Levels Sink after Several Years of Rises

Heavy pumping last year occurred in the district, which is one of the most heavily irrigated in Nebraska.

Published on: May 20, 2013

What a difference a year makes. In the 2012 spring groundwater readings in the Upper Big Blue NRD rose 0.41feet. After the drought and heavy irrigation pumping in 2012, the average groundwater measurements showed a decline of 4.38 feet across the NRD based on 2013 spring measurements.

Observation wells are measured in the spring of each year, allowing the water table to rebound from the previous irrigation season. 

The Upper Big Blue, encompassing all of York County and portions of Polk, Butler, Seward, Saline, Fillmore, Clay, Adams and Hamilton counties, is one of the most heavily irrigated NRDs in the state.

In all, the NRD measured 514 observation wells this past spring, and the measurements were averaged. 

Courtney Woodman takes a groundwater reading for the Upper Big Blue NRD.
Courtney Woodman takes a groundwater reading for the Upper Big Blue NRD.

However, according to the NRD, the findings show the 2013 average groundwater level is 3.03 feet above the “allocation trigger,” which is the point the NRD would set pumping limits and require flow meters, says John Turnbull, Upper Big Blue NRD general manager.

“Through the conservation efforts of groundwater users, and because of an extended period of above average rainfall in the 1980s and 1990s, the average groundwater level in the Upper Big Blue NRD rose significantly to a level in the year 2000 that was approximately seven feet higher than the 1961 baseline level, and 14 feet higher than the low level of 1976 to 1981.

Turnbull says the district’s goal is to hold the average groundwater level to above the 1978 level. In 2005, the district average groundwater level reached the “reporting trigger,” which required groundwater users to report annual groundwater use to the NRD and to certify their irrigated acres. If the district average level falls below the 1978 “allocation trigger level,” the use of flow meters will be required and groundwater allocation will begin.

Should the allocation trigger be reached and producers and other users have not installed flow meters by the next calendar year, then they will not be able to pump any amount of water until a flow meter is installed, Turnbull says.

Since March 1, 2004, all newly drilled new wells and replacement wells require a flow meter.