The Lower Platte North Natural Resources District is considering changes to its irrigation rules so it would have more flexibility in dealing with groundwater shortages during times of drought.
In October, the NRD imposed a moratorium on new irrigated acres within its boundaries for 180 days. The action was aimed at areas where household wells dried up during heavy irrigation pumping.
A public hearing will be held at noon on Jan. 13 at the district office in Wahoo to take comment on the proposed rule changes and the possible lifting of the moratorium.
The proposed changes, approved recently by the district's board of directors, include the creation of two "special quantity areas" in Butler/Saunders and Platte/Colfax counties.
"In these areas, groundwater levels can be highly volatile and heavily influenced by drought and groundwater pumping," the Wahoo-based district said in a news release.
Among restrictions that could be imposed in a special quantity area are limits on pumping during certain times of the day or the establishment of a system of rotation for pumping; an allocation of the amount of ground water that may be used for agricultural purposes; installation of devices for measuring ground water withdrawals for agricultural purposes; mandatory annual reporting of static water levels in all irrigation wells; limitations on expansion of irrigated acres or otherwise prevent increases in ground water withdrawals from irrigation wells; mandatory educational requirements; requiring new or replacement water wells to be dug deep enough that they are less likely to be affected by seasonal water declines caused by other water wells in the same area.
The changes would allow special quantity areas to be declared for other parts of the district if the need should arise. The NRD covers parts of seven counties in east-central Nebraska.
The district's policy for irrigation expansion in an existing "limited development area" would also change under the proposed rules. Currently, the district must approve 2,500 new or expanded irrigated acres each year in such areas if it receives enough applications, regardless of other considerations, such as drought.
Under the proposed rules, the district would have the option of approving up to 2,500 acres, but would not be obliged to do so.
Immediately after the hearing, the NRD board may vote on whether to finalize the rules changes and/or lift the temporary stay.
The full text of the proposed rules and more information is available on the NRD website at www.lpnnrd.org.