Junior water rights irrigation stopped in Nebraska

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A total of 1,106 farmers and irrigators across Nebraska, as of Friday, had been ordered by the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to stop pumping water from rivers and streams until drought conditions improve, according to numbers in a Lincoln Star Journal newspaper article. The total shut-off number comes from irrigation/river basin districts reports.

"Water administration is occurring everywhere across the state to some degree," Natural Resources Director Brian Dunnigan was quoted as saying. "We're mostly closing for irrigation."

The DNR has jurisdiction over all surface water rights in the state, including those held by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, irrigation districts and individual irrigators, it is noted.

There is definitely concern over the way water is allocated for farming, industry and cities plus maintaining appropriate flow of water across state lines. The oldest water rights holders are not drastically limited while the “junior water rights holders,” or more recent water rights holders, are shut off. Senior water rights held by the Nebraska Public Power District for a Spencer, Neb., hydroelectric dam resulted in more than 300 junior irrigator rights holders being shut off.

“David Clabaugh, manager of the Lower Big Blue Natural Resources District in Beatrice, said the shut-off notices do not affect irrigators who pump from the ground. The state's 23 NRDs have jurisdiction over groundwater irrigation, and Clabaugh said his district has not sent out any notices,” the newspaper article noted. It is common that those with surface water rights do not have groundwater rights.

Many senior rights farming irrigators are limited to between nine and 18 inches per acre during a growing season, which is quite limited water to grow crops in the type of heat that has been hanging around the state.

It is logical to expect more water rights to be turned off if the drought continues.

Water being pumped from the Ogallala Aquifer in Nebraska has major impact on the water available to those who rely on the aquifer in other states south of Nebraska. Drop of the water level in the Ogallala Aquifer in the Texas Panhandle was an average of 2.56 feet last year, which was the largest decline in 25 years and the third largest decline in the last 61years. This is ominous news for what might show up at the end of this year’s summer drought.      

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