Southern Lincoln County irrigation well
Colored circles are the farm's pivots.
A multi-million dollar ‘water farm’ in southern Lincoln County would be a double loss for Nebraska and might not do what it is intended to do, Lincoln County farmer Dan Estermann told the Lincoln County Commissioners Monday. Estermann spent about 30 minutes with the commissioners, showing them documents, photos and plans for the controversial project.
The “water farm” rippled into public awareness late last year with the announcement that 19,000 acres of farmland in southern Lincoln County would be converted to grass, while water from the farm will be pumped out of the aquifer to the Republican and Platte rivers.
The $110 million project was intended to fulfill requirements for minimum river flows under state and national agreements, supporters said.
The project was introduced in late September and flowed rapidly. Four natural resource districts bought the land less than a month later on Oct. 18. The paid $83 million for the farm, which consisted of 115 center pivot irrigated quarter sections.
Another $27 million was generally allocated for pipelines.
But the project came to a screeching halt in January, when nearby irrigators filed suit, claiming the water would bypass not only them but also federal lakes in southwest Nebraska, and reduce future river flows by pumping ground water out of the aquifer.
The project has not progressed this summer, while the lawsuit remains unsettled, but activity is bubbling again, as fall approaches.
On Aug. 14, the organizing committee, NCORPE (Nebraska Cooperative Republican-Platte Enhancement,) accepted a bid for well-field piping ($12.4 million) from Merryman Excavation of Woodstock, Ill. and conversion of the wells on the farm ($5.9 million) from Sargent Drilling of Grant.
Also, a notice of intent to issue $92.5 million in bonds was publicized on Aug. 9. It is a 30-day advance notice.
Estermann told the commissioners that the pipeline will run into his property, although he has not been told where or when.
"I've asked several times," he said, "but I have not seen the plans."
According to information at some of the dozens of public meetings that Estermann has attended, the pipeline will have the capacity to dump up to 60,000 acre-feet of water a year into the Medicine Creek on his land. The creek winds about 60 miles until it reaches the Republican River east of Cambridge. From there, the water would travel more than 100 miles to reach the Kansas border.
Estermann expects the affects on property near Medicine Creek to be significant. The creek runs dry some years, including this summer, and only runs full during a rare heavy rain of 6 inches or so, when it carries about as much water as the NCORPE project could send down the creek, he said.
Nor has Estermann received a financial offer for the right to run the water, or a pipeline, on his property.
For years, Kansas has claimed Nebraska has been consuming more than its fair share of the Republican River before the water reaches Kansas. The two states are in continuing negotiations to resolve the issues, overseen by a special master of the U.S. Supreme Court.
Estermann said Kansas doesn’t like the NCORPE plan to augment the river flows. A top Kansas official said in writing in March that a similar-but-smaller project at Rock Creek near the Republican River at Parks is unacceptable.
Kansas Chief Engineer David Barfield recently told Nebraska authorities that Kansas will not accept the Rock Creek project or the NCORPE project as a legitimate way to send more water to Kansas.
Estermann said the project would pull water “forever” from Nebraska. And, Nebraska landowners in the NRDs have to foot the bill to boot by paying “occupation” taxes.
Some of Estermann’s other concerns:
• Loss of economic activity – grain, livestock production and related jobs.
• Loss of property taxes to Lincoln County and the Wallace School District.
• Interest on the bonds, which he said nearly doubles the base cost of $100 million or so. Also, Estermann said the interest rate is scheduled to climb to 6 percent, under the published bond schedules during the next 25 years, indebting future generations of landowners.
Estermann said the Lincoln County Planning Commission should exercise its jurisdiction over the planned pipelines, just as it did over an inter-state natural gas pipeline that was buried in southern Lincoln County in 2008.