Historic Water Project Will Have Many Benefits

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The Twin Platte Natural Resource District has been looking for offset water to get the Platte River back to the same condition it was in 1997 for several years now.

TPNRD General Manager Kent Miller says not returning enough water could mean costly regulations.

"Regulations mean the producers will not be able to have as large of crops," says Miller. "It's going to impact the entire economy of the Twin Platte Natural Resources District."

But with the help of the Upper, Middle, and Lower Republican NRDs, Twin Platte has a plan.

The four NRDs have formed an inter-local agreements to buy a 19,000 acre farm south of North Platte. They plan to stop irrigating those acres and use pipelines to run the stored water back into the Platte and Republican Rivers.

"It's a win-win situation because this is extra water that we're getting in water short years for the Republican basin to help meet the terms of our commitments to Kansas," says Lower Republican NRD General Manager Mike Clements.

NRD officials say at $83 million plus the cost of the pipelines, it's a cost-effective project they'll pay for using an occupation tax on irrigated acres in the four districts.

Miller says piping the water is necessary because natural seepage takes time and is hard to measure.

"This is real wet water, not water that's identified on a computer model, that will be pumped to the river at the time it provides the most benefit," says Miller.

The NRDs say the agreement came together quickly when the land came on the market last month, but Clements says the timing is perfect after he says the Republican basin suffered through the worst single year drought in its history.

"If we're in normal or dry years we're just going to leave that water in the ground and not pump it and only pump it during times that we have shortages," says Clements.

Miller says finding a good source of offset water is something they've been thinking about for a long time and couldn't pass up what he calls a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

"It's rare that you find this many acres in one location and this many acres at the place it is in relationship to the Platte Basin and Republican Basin because it's right on the border between the watersheds," says Miller.

While no official timeline is set, Clements says they hope to have the project up and running as early as next summer.

The NRDs say they'll each own 25% of the farm and say right now plans are to reseed it to native grassland for eventual grazing.