Attorneys and three court-appointed appraisers met for two hours Monday to consider water damages to the Estermann Hereford Ranch along the Medicine Creek.
Land that Estermann owns along the creek will be inundated regularly by the N-CORPE “water farm” project, which is sending water down Medicine Creek toward the Kansas state line.
Estermann and N-CORPE have failed to agree on the fair value of lost hay, pasture and access to the other side of the creek because of the higher water.
The N-CORPE (Nebraska - Cooperative Republican Platte Enhancement) project is intended to settle a long-standing disagreement between Kansas and Nebraska -- that Nebraska is using more than its fair share of Republican River water.
Attorney David A. Jarecki and Project Manager Jasper Fanning of N-CORPE told the appraisers that 60,000 acre feet of additional water will flow in dry years down Medicine Creek.
Fanning said the project is necessary, because historically, 70 percent of the flow of the Republican River through Nebraska came from rainfall runoff. However conservation measures (berms, dams and contoured hillsides) over the years have reduced the runoff by half.
Fanning said the water farm project will allow Nebraska to send more water into the Republican River basin at “the flip of a switch” – because more than 100 center pivots have been idled in southern Lincoln County and many of the irrigation wells are now linked to pump water into the creek.
Fanning said about 26.27 acres of Estermann’s land will be affected, including nearly 12 acres that is currently swampy most of the year.
He offered to pay a one-time fee of $17,750 for the right to send water through the property, derived from adjusted, comparable land sales and tax valuations over four years.
Fanning said Estermann will retain the title and mineral rights to the property, but would be prevented from inhibiting the flow of water.
“I think that’s a pretty fair market value,” Fanning said.
Fanning also said N-CORPE would construct a berm along part of the creek bed to keep the water from spreading.
“We’ve already made that commitment to the landowner,” he said. “The more consolidated the flow, the better.”
But Estermann’s attorney George Vinton cited a state statute (NRS: 76-710) that says the easement should establish the boundaries and first year’s damage, but if cropland is affected, damages must be calculated and paid each year.
When Estermann spoke, he told the board that at one point N-CORPE offered him $65,000, but “I told them I’d give them $60,000 if they’d go away.”
He said additional culverts have been installed already but are poorly designed, and he and his dad Joe will lose 20 percent of his hay production on the ranch, as well as valuable shelter and access for his herd during calving season.
He said baby calves use cattails in the areas that are already swampy now, which are near his house so he can readily check them.
He said $17,750 would hardly cover the cost of the hay he will have to buy in one year when the meadow is flooded.
Estermann said the land has been in the family since 1919 and the now-flooded area has been used for hay production and pasture ever since.
He normally gets two cuttings of hay from the meadow, and they use the second cutting to wean calves because it is highly palatable and contains some clover.
Estermann said, historically, a heavy rain will raise Medicine Creek to flood levels, but he has only seen flooding comparable to the flooding that will be caused N-CORPE one time. On that occasion, water receded within the banks 3-4 days later.
“We are talking about a flood every day now,” he said.
He also said a fence on the east end of his property will be jeopardized by the higher water, and “if our fence is bad, we have a real problem.”
The Estermanns raise purebred Hereford cattle that can be traced back to 1899. He doesn’t want his cattle to get out or a neighbor's cattle to get in.
“I have to sign affadavits that our bulls are virgin bulls,” he said. “We are unique in the U.S. We know our recessive, genetic base. We know there will be no surprises to our customers. We are known from Canada to the Gulf Coast."
Estermann a;so said a fourth culvert needs to be installed so he can get to cropland and pasture on the other side of the creek. And, he called for a fifth culvert below a berm on which to build a sound fence on the east end of the property.
He said if he tried to build that berm and fence himself, he could be prevented under the provision that he not restrict the flow of water.
Vinton also said the Estermanns should be reimbursed for damage caused by machinery when three culverts were previously installed, before the water started to flow.
“Good fences make good neighbors,” Dan said. “We didn’t create the water shortage in Kansas. These problems should not be solved on my side of the fence.”
Each side entered several maps, photos and other documents into evidence. Estermann also showed a short video of N-CORPE water running through his meadow in late March.
After two hours of discussion and presentations, the board of three appraisers drove to the Estermann ranch to make a personal inspection. The board is expected to determine a settlement amount this week.