Water use in Nebraska
from the U.S. Geological Survey Report

The following are percentages for the year 2000:

    • Irrigation use and use expressed as percentage of total groundwater use = 7,420 million gallons per day or 94 percent of total groundwater used.
    • Municipal use and use expressed as percentage of total groundwater use = 266 million gallons per day or 3.4 percent of total groundwater used.
    • Municipal use and use expressed as percentage of total surface water use = 63.8 million gallons per day or 1.5 percent of total surface water used.

These figures do not include hydroelectric power, nuclear power, fossil fuel power, and other minor uses.

For more information, go to http://water.ugs.gov/pubs/circ/2004/circ1268


Water law making waves
by David Hendee, Omaha World-Herald

Water flowing from kitchen faucet? Check.

Lawn sprinkler soaking the garden? Check.

Center-pivot irrigating the cornfield? Check.

Stock tanks brimming in the cattle pasture? Check.

Nebraska's sweeping new water law has been on the books for two days and even if you live in the drought-dry corners of the state, you probably wouldn't know that anything changed.

But change is coming, and several western Nebraska cities fear nasty water wars between towns and agriculture-dominated natural resources districts.

"It's fair to say that communities along the Platte River west of Cozad, the Republican River and Lodgepole Creek are very concerned about how allocations of groundwater will impact their ability to provide for the public health and safety and to grow their communities," said John Heil, an Omaha attorney representing several western cities on water issues.

A workshop focusing on how the new law, Legislative Bill 962, may affect municipal and industrial use of groundwater will be held Wednesday in North Platte. More than 300 people are expected to attend.

Sidney City Manager Gary Person, who has feuded over water with his local South Platte Natural Resources District in the Lodgepole Creek valley, said towns such as his have dramatically cut water usage in recent years with drought lingering over the West.

Nebraska's biggest water consumers, however, are not homes and businesses but farms and ranches.

Irrigation and livestock users take about 96 percent of the water consumed in the state each year. Domestic and commercial users consume less than 3 percent, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

John Cook, the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources attorney who is considered an author of the legislation, said the new law is complex and will have significant impacts in some parts of the state.

It is wrong, however, for cities to assume the worst, Cook said.

The new law is designed to make the state and its 23 natural resources districts more proactive in anticipating and preventing water conflicts between folks who tap rivers and streams and those who pump from the ground.

In regions where conflicts exist, the law establishes principles and timelines for resolving the disputes.

Sidney's Person said communities such as his are the driving force behind economic growth in rural Nebraska and need water to continue growing.

"It's tough enough to do economic development in rural Nebraska, but if you hamstring us, or put handcuffs on us, and not allow growth without an excessive price, then everybody walks away," he said.

McCook City Manager John Bingham shares that concern.

"If NRDs determine that allocations for our industrial water users are subject to review every 12 months, for example, then what happens if McCook and a place east of Grand Island - where it still rains regularly - are on the short list for a corporation looking for a new site?" Bingham said. "They probably head down the road."

Bingham said his concern is that municipal water systems will be treated "as if they're just another irrigator" by NRD boards with a skewed perspective of city issues.

For example, the Middle Republican Natural Resources District in the McCook area is proposing a "per capita allocation" for the city on water pumped from the ground.

Bingham took the proposed per-person water allocation from the NRD, computed the acreage within the city boundaries and concluded that if the entire acreage were planted in corn, McCook would receive twice the water allocation than what was proposed.

McCook, a city of 8,000, is the major job base in southwest Nebraska.

Person, the Sidney city manager, said the McCook example illustrates how municipalities and economic development are misunderstood by NRDs - and why he and others are passionate about changing the attitudes of policymakers working under the new law.

"I'm an old country kid and I understand raising corn and cattle, but, by golly, we need some common sense on how we approach these issues," Person said.

"There shouldn't even be an argument when it comes to water for people. As Sidney goes, so goes the entire southern Panhandle."

Heil said the North Platte meeting will offer officials from the cities, NRDs and state government a chance to begin to better understand the impact of the new law.

"The best thing that could happen is for the drought to end, but that's not going to happen," Heil said.

"City managers are dealing with the survival of their communities and one missed opportunity is huge for them. Once NRDs get the big picture that cities are not their enemies and are not taking all the water, reasonable minds can work it out. But uncertainty is here for the foreseeable future."

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