A 180-day stay has been placed on new well drilling and expansion of irrigated acres in the Lower Platte North Natural Resources District.
The temporary stay is intended as a "time-out" period that will allow the NRD to consider changes to its irrigation policies to help ensure the long-term health of area groundwater supplies.
The district decided to implement the stay after another hot, dry summer intensified already-strong demand for new irrigated acres in the district. For the second year in a row, requests for new irrigated acres far outstripped available allocations in the district.
The NRD also received numerous reports of domestic wells going dry, particularly in the Bruno-Brainard-David City area in Butler County, and a corresponding rise in well interference complaints.
During the temporary stay, the NRD will be considering changes to its rules to allow more flexibility in dealing with these kinds of issues.
For instance, under the current rules, water levels have to fall below pre-determined "trigger levels" for three consecutive years before the NRD can restrict new irrigated acres within a sub-area. This approach works well for many parts of the district where water levels are relatively resilient.
However, in some areas, groundwater levels are much more susceptible to drought and heavy irrigation pumping. When water shortages occur in these areas, the current rules make it difficult for the NRD to respond effectively. During the stay, the district will be looking at a rules change to allow those areas to be designated as "special areas" where new irrigated acres could be restricted.
The district will also be looking at a change to allow temporary stays to be declared for sub-areas or special areas on a case-by-case basis, instead of district-wide as is required by the current rules.
The third change the NRD will be considering is to allocation policies for the district's "Limited Development Area." Current rules state that the district will approve 2,500 new or expanded irrigated acres per year in the Limited Development Area. Thus, the district is obligated to approve that amount if it receives enough applications, regardless of other considerations such as drought.
The district's Water Committee is requesting that the rule be changed to allow up to 2,500 acres at the Board's discretion. This would give the district the flexibility to consider current circumstances when deciding how many acres to allocate each year, instead of simply having to approve a set number.
The NRD's Water Committee and the full Board of Directors will be discussing the proposed rules changes at upcoming meetings in November and December. A public hearing is tentatively planned for December 9. Once any changes are finalized, the Board will vote on whether to lift the stay or extend it. The stay will automatically expire on April 12, 2014 if no action is taken before then.
Any variance applications that were pending when the stay was declared will be held until after any rules changes have been made and the stay is lifted.
If you have questions about the temporary stay, please call us at (402) 443-4675 or email email@example.com.