July 31, 2014

Farmers could receive $10M to offset losses due to irrigation restrictions

Nebraska would pay $10 million over the next two years to compensate farmers prohibited from irrigating crops under a bill advancing in the legislature.

Sen. Norm Wallman of Cortland tells colleagues LB 522 seems to be the best way to handle a difficult situation.

“And the only way to solve a water issue is to use less water,” Wallman states. “And we pay people to not irrigate. It doesn’t sound right, it doesn’t smell right, but I suppose maybe that’s the only way to do it. But it just doesn’t seem right to do it this way.”

The problem arises from restrictions placed on surface water irrigation so Nebraska can comply with provisions of the Republican River Compact with the states of Kansas and Colorado. Kansas sued Nebraska, claiming Nebraska has allowed its farmers to divert too much of the river for irrigation, depriving Kansas farmers of water for irrigation.

Farmers dependent on the Republican River for irrigation have lost crop yields due to the irrigation restrictions, costing them millions.

The drought has made matters worse, dropping water levels on the Republican.

Sen. John Harms of Scottsbluff suggests that while the legislature struggles with how to handle the immediate crisis, it needs to look long term.

“This brings home pretty clearly why it’s so important for us to have a long-range plan that deals with water and that we have the capabilities to put the research together to begin to answer some of the questions we’re now trying to discuss in regard to the Republican River,” Harms says.

A long-range study of water uses would be undertaken under provisions of a bill moved forward by Sen. Tom Carlson of Holdrege, who supports LB 522.

But that support might be tentative.

Carlson isn’t happy with lawsuits filed by the Frenchman-Cambridge Irrigation District and the Bostwick Irrigation District, seeking compensation to offset farm losses.

Carlson says he hopes the legislation will convince the two districts to drop their lawsuits.

“So, the truth of the matter is they’ve sued us, but they want money,” Carlson tells colleagues. “We’re called upon to think this thing through and I bring it up, because it’s just the way it is.”

Carlson says he might not vote for the bill if the districts don’t drop their legal action.