At their Aug. 14 meeting, the board of directors of the Upper Niobrara White Natural Resource District awarded themselves unfettered power to regulate ground water in our four-county area by effectively removing management triggers previously mandated by a state approved Integrated Management Plan (IMP).
In customary fashion, the power grab passed unanimously without debate or discussion. Groundwater in Box Butte, Dawes, Sheridan, and much of Sioux Counties is managed by the UNWNRD.
The UNWNRD is further divided into six sub-districts that “roughly” reflect their distinct hydrogeologic differences.
The UNWNRD is governed by 11 locally elected layman directors. The directors govern based on statutes and groundwater rules and regulations approved and adopted by the state of Nebraska, most recently in 2011.
These regulations, among other things, prescribe how groundwater is managed in the UNWNRD. These regulations contain objective criteria that when met, will “trigger” management actions by the UNWNRD. These triggers relate to water quality, water quantity, and consumptive use by municipal, agricultural, industrial, domestic, and other large users that rely on ground water. These management triggers were developed by experts in the field to protect our groundwater from abuse by consumers and to protect consumers from abuse by publicly elected officials who are human beings and not usually expert in the area of scientific groundwater management.
Last winter, the board attempted to implement economically strangling regulations that were not only contrary to those allowed in the IMP, but completely at odds with the facts.
Were it not for significant public opposition, and the fact that the IMP did not allow them to take those steps, they would have succeeded.
They have now rewritten their IMP to remove the annoying management constraints, despite public objection.
No one voiced public support, except board members. At a public information session on Aug. 5, one director stated the board needed the new language for an “out,” in order to increase their “flexibility” to pass regulations.
At the Aug. 14 board meeting, the same director stated the new language was a restatement of power already available to the board, which it is not. If the language is already there, why would the board add it in again?
I challenge the board to produce a written legal opinion that states this change is an exact restatement thereof, and no expansion whatsoever of the power they already have. At the end of the public hearing in Hemingford, another director stated they needed “trigger removal” so they could allocate the Cottonwood Creek drainage in order to benefit what turned out to be one domestic well with an undiagnosed problem. We were further advised in the Aug. 14 meeting, that this is not a “rogue board” and it is still subject to public hearings.
The hearings, of course, do not control the board’s decisions and certainly do not force the board to become better informed regarding the issues and their legal authority. Hardly reassuring.
By Andy Curd, rancher, Chadron, Neb.