Lincoln County irrigation well
A pipeline will be laid as soon as possible in the “water farm” project in southern Lincoln County. Officials want to get the pipeline in operation by June 2013. They will meet Monday in McCook to consider an engineer for the project.
The project, which officially began just six weeks ago, will convert the largest crop farm in Nebraska to a farm from which only water will be harvested.
Conservation officials officially bought the $83 million in farmland Tuesday. The water will be pumped, piped and ditched into two major Nebraska rivers.
The deal will help Nebraska meet agreements with surrounding states and the federal government for river flows in the Platte and Republican rivers, Kent Miller of the Twin Platte Natural Resources District said.
The farm, formerly known as Lincoln Farm and before that as Oppliger Farms, was one of the largest crop farms in Nebraska. Located in southern Lincoln County, it consists of 117 center-pivot irrigated crop fields, most of which cover half of a square mile.
The cropland will now be converted to grass pastures.
Thirty new wells will be dug with a common manifold to pump into the two pipelines, according to preliminary plans. One pipeline will run south to pour water into the Medicine Creek and eventually into the Republican River. Another pipeline will run north to put water into a Central Public Power and Irrigation District canal west of Lake Maloney, and on into the South Platte.
The pipeline to the Medicine Creek will be running by June, sending water to the Republican River, Miller said. The target date to pipe water to the Platte River is 2014.
Dan Estermann, a rancher in the path of the southbound pipeline predicts that the Medicine Creek won't carry the water the 60 miles or so to the Republican River, from where it must still travel another 60 miles to reach Kansas.
Estermann said much of the water will be lost to saturation and evaporation. He also said culverts on the creek are not big enough, and changes in the water levels will damage hay meadows all along the creek.
Officials have not specifically responded to Estermann. They say that up to 15,000 acre feet of water a year can be sent to the Republican River, if necessary, to meet requirments for river flows into Kansas.
Miller said the construction and engineering of the new wells and pipelines will cost about $27 million, according to estimates, putting the total cost at $110 million for the project.
The project is a joint venture of four natural resource districts – the Twin Platte and the Upper, Middle and Lower Republican NRDs -- which are dividing the costs equally. The four NRDs have created a new government agency called N-CORPE to supervise the farm.
N-CORPE will discuss the engineering contract, and a potential bonding agency to finance the project, at 1 p.m. on Monday in the first floor of the Keystone building, 402 Norris in McCook. The meeting is open to the public.
Meanwhile, one of two dissenting members of the Twin Platte NRD resigned Dec. 1 from the board of directors.
Robert E. (Bob) Peterson, a retired carpenter from North Platte, said the project has only a marginal chance of success. He said the majority of the board of directors are “profoundly blinded by studies and multi-million dollar expenditures” and are “ignoring and bypassing the public, taxpayers and the very voters who elected them to office.”
“They have fundamentally rendered the credibility of this board to no confidence,” Peterson wrote in his resignation letter.
Peterson said the project is “an obtuse approach to the existing water problems, only expanding the cost with no tangible results.”
He also said the employees of the NRDs will essentially control N-CORPE, not the elected NRD board members.
The other dissenter on the 12-person board of directors is North Platte City Attorney Doug Stack, who remains on the board. Stack has predicted there will be trouble making a deal of this magnitude successful in such a short timeline.