Worries about groundwater supplies persist even as drought conditions have eased.
The Lower Big Blue Natural Resources District Board in southeast Nebraska has suspended issuing any permits for new irrigation wells.
Lower Big Blue NRD Manager Dave Clabaugh says the board understands the decision isn’t welcome news to many farmers.
“Some people may have had plans to put in a well and right now we’re just going to temporarily halt that and take a look at things,” Clabaugh tells Nebraska Radio Network affiliate KWBE. “The stay also restricts the expansion of irrigated acres.”
The Lower Big Blue NRD received 22 applications for new irrigation wells this month and five the month before.
About 170 permit applications were filed last year.
Clabaugh says that within the Lower Big Blue NRD, about 200,000 acres of the roughly one-million acres of farmland is irrigated.
“It’s not a huge amount, but it’s still a very important part economic-wise in the district and in the area, of course.”
New permits for irrigation wells have been suspended for at least 180 days. That will give the Lower Big Blue NRD Board time to update its groundwater management rules.
Clabaugh says the nearly two-year drought took a toll on the groundwater supply.
“If we had some of the rains we had in the early 90s, we wouldn’t be talking about this,” Clabaugh says. “They have dealt with drought in the western part of the state, tackled some of these issues already. I guess it’s our turn to take a step back and take a look at that.”
Clabaugh adds the district has to take steps to protect irrigators it already has.
Doug Kennedy, KWBE, contributed to this article