Groundwater Quantity

Groundwater Quantity Management Program

Central Platte NRD’s Groundwater Management Quantity goal is to assure an adequate supply of water for feasible and beneficial uses through proper management, conservation, development and utilization of the District’s water resources.  CPNRD collects groundwater level observations and administers programs for irrigation runoff, groundwater quantity, groundwater quality, groundwater modeling, and is developing a surface water flow model for a comprehensive groundwater and surface water management program.

The NRD's updated Groundwater Management Plan has been sent to the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources for review. Check back for public hearings to be scheduled following the Department's review.
Proposed Plan

Nebraska leads the nation in irrigation production with over 8 million irrigated acres. Being in the Platte River Watershed, the District’s primary surface water feature is the Platte River. However, most farmers rely on groundwater for their irrigation needs since groundwater is abundantly available across the District. Water supply is under continuous monitoring throughout the District and a groundwater supply management plan to address potential shortages has been adopted by the NRD’s board of directors and has been in effect since 1987.

Groundwater aquifer declines have been documented where irrigation use is the heaviest. Groundwater is the District’s chief source of drinking water and primary economic resource of the NRD since we depend on it for irrigation; which, in turn, enables us to have a strong economy rooted in agriculture. If there was any doubt that we need to take care of this resource, it should’ve been dispelled by declining water tables in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Rainfall increased in the mid-1980s/1990s, which caused water tables to rise, but the historical record suggests complete groundwater recovery from the dry periods during the wet periods does not always occur in all areas. Careful management of the resource is necessary. Aquifer thickness varies from 25-300+ feet across the district, so a drop of one foot has a more significant impact on some parts of the District than on others. Groundwater depths and thicknesses are charted and used to help establish 24 groundwater supply management areas. Besides the aquifer conditions, the soils and topographic characteristics are similar in each management area.

The 1982 groundwater levels were established as the standard for the management plan since rainfall and recharge were above average several years since 1982. The maximum acceptable decline for each of the management areas was calculated, establishing a margin of safety in each area. It was determined that as an area’s average groundwater level declined through that margin of safety, certain controls ought to be mandated to slow the decline.

In 1987, the board established the Groundwater Management Plan with a phased program to implement controls when needed. The maximum acceptable decline ranges from 10’ in the eastern end of the District to 30’ in portions of the western end of the district. If the water table falls to 50% of that maximum decline (5 and 15 feet respectively for each of the range parameters), Phase II would go into effect for any area or areas affected, triggering mandatory reductions in irrigated acres and establishing spacing limits for new irrigation wells. Further declines to 70%, 90% & 100% of the maximum acceptable decline will trigger Phase III, IV and V controls respectively, mandating additional cutbacks in irrigated acreage and increased spacing limits for new wells.

Complete details of the controls are available in district publications. Because of the differences in the aquifer depth and conditions, it is conceivable that some areas could be in the higher phases while other areas may always be in Phase I.

The spring 2022 static groundwater levels compared to the 1982 levels were presented at the Central Platte Natural Resources District’s (CPNRD) Board of Directors meeting on Thursday. Angela Warner, GIS Specialist, reported that 11 of the 24 Ground Water Management Areas (GWMA) have declined since 1982 to 2022. Below are declines by GWMA:

-GWMA 19 is down 3.11 feet and GWMA 23 is down 3.19 feet, both triggering below 25% decline.
-GWMA 12 is down 3.92 feet but has increased above 25% decline for 3 years.
-GWMA 16 is down 2.17 feet but has increased above 25% decline for 4 years.
-GWMA 2 is down 2.32 feet but has increased for 5 years. It is now open for transfers and supplemental wells.
-GWMA 9 is down 9.06 feet. This area has the largest continuous declines.
-GWMA 20 down 4.78 feet.

The 1982 levels were established as the standard with maximum acceptable declines and a margin of safety calculated for each of the 24 areas. As an area’s average groundwater level declines through that margin of safety, controls are mandated to slow the decline. CPNRD’s Groundwater Management Plan was developed with a phased program to implement those controls when needed. The maximum acceptable decline ranges from 10’ in the eastern end of the district to 30’ in the western end. If the water table falls to 50% of that maximum decline (5’-15’), Phase 2 goes into effect for the area triggering mandatory reductions in irrigated acres and establishing spacing limits for new irrigation wells. Further declines to 70%, 90% and 100% of the maximum acceptable decline trigger Phase III, IV and V controls respectively, mandating additional cutbacks in irrigated acreage and increased spacing limits for new wells.

YOUR CONTACT: Luke Zakrzewski, GIS Image Analyst

Water Service Agreement 
An amended water service agreement was approved in the amount of $1.2 million with the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources (NeDNR) and Tri-Basin NRD at their monthly meeting on Thursday.  The agreement allows the NeDNR to pay Central Nebraska Public Power & Irrigation District (Central) $19,100,000.00 in advance to divert water into the E-65 Canal, Phelps Canal, Elwood Reservoir and various waterfowl production areas to provide aquifer recharge for 15 years.  Central Platte NRD will receive credit for 25% of the excess flows (500-2,500 AF/year) that will provide seepage back to the Platte River. The $1.2 million was being held at the Nebraska Community Foundation.

Violation Report  CPNRD uses infrared imagery flown each summer to examine fields for violations. 2022 remaining violations include: A Polk County landowner has three offenses for irrigating non-certified irrigated acres and was sent Cease and Desist orders. The landowner had violated a prior Cease and Desist Order and a court order to cease irrigation until getting into compliance with CPNRD’s Rules and Regulations. That individual will be sentenced for the unresolved violations. A tenant/landowner miscommunication regarding NRD reports has been rectified and should be resolved going forward. Two other producers that violated Cease and Desist orders filed by CPNRD are now in compliance with the NRD’s Groundwater Management Rules and Regulations. Penalties as a result of the violations will be enforced.

Schroeder Property  John Peterson, JEO Consulting, presented management options to maximize the hydrologic benefits for a 151-acre property in Dawson County, purchased in April 2018, to the Water Utilization Committee. The current renter will be charged $125/acre to lease as dryland and the NRD will retire the irrigated acres to gain credit for 107 acre-feet (AF) of water back to the Platte River starting in 2023.  The Utilization Committee will review and determine which of the management options presented will best meet requirements of the Integrated Management Plan, the Basin-Wide Plan for Integrated Water Resources Management for over-appropriated areas in the Platte River Basin, and Nebraska’s New Depletions Plan.

Groundwater Management Plan Jim Schneider, Olsson Engineering of Lincoln, gave an update to CPNRD's Board of Directors on the rewrite of the NRD’s Ground Water Management Plan in June. In July, the Water Utilization and Water Quality committees reviewed updates to the NRD’s proposed Ground Water Management Plan and approved sending the Plan to the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources for review.  Public information meetings will be scheduled when the Plan is completed.

In 2019, Olsson was selected to rewrite the Plan and incorporate new data and insight acquired since the approval of the plan in 1985. The original Ground Water Management Plan was based on hydrogeologic, climate and socio-economic information available at the time. CPNRD has since acquired and developed significant data about the groundwater resources. Over the last 37 years, rules and regulations have changed significantly and groundwater management goals have evolved to satisfy requirements of the CPNRD’s Integrated Management Plan, the Upper Platte River Basin Plan and the Platte River Recovery Implementation Plan.  Olsson updated plan triggers, data sets and maps, and completed over 200 scenarios with new data from the 2022 Cooperative Hydrology Study model (COHYST) to predict 50-year simulations. The updated plan includes changes to allow subdistricts to be subdivided for independent management within the area, new maximum acceptable decline triggers; and additional management regulations to require meters and allocation to address groundwater decline instead of cutting irrigated acres. The water quality portion of the plan was not changed.

September 2020
Invasive Weed Management   
The board approved a motion to invest $500,000 over three years in an endowment for the Platte Valley Weed Management Area (PVWMA) to fund the annual cost of maintaining water conveyance in the Platte River.  Since 2009, the PVWMA has treated approximately 26,000 acres of invasive plant species within flowing channels of the Platte River in Dawson, Buffalo, Hall, Merrick, Hamilton and Polk counties within the NRD.

January 2020
Violation Report
  12 landowners/producers irrigated land that isn’t certified or approved for irrigation through a transfer in 2019. The number of violations has continued to drop each year. Violation letters were mailed to resolve the violations. If the land continues to be irrigated without certifying the acres in question, a cease and desist order will be issued and violators could face action in District Court.

August 2019
Recharge Agreement 
A recharge agreement with the Nebraska Community Foundation for the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program changes the way the CPNRD is paid for groundwater recharge via seepage through the Six Mile, Cozad, Thirty Mile, and Orchard Alfalfa canals in the non-irrigation season. The total amount of diverted will be measured by CPNRD using automated measuring and recording gates and adjusted by subtracting any deliveries or releases made and recorded by the irrigation district. The non-irrigation season will begin when the canals stop releasing water for irrigation and end when the canals begin releasing water for irrigation as determined by CPNRD.

Policy Changes to the Groundwater Management Plan (as of November 2018)
*Irrigation  New wells that irrigate new acres are not allowed. Supplemental & replacement wells are still allowed.
*Transfer Schedule  Transfer applications for irrigated acres will be accepted from September 1- March 1.
*Sub-Area Transfer  A sub-area is required to stay under the transfer limit rule for 5 consecutive years.  Transfers & supplemental wells are not allowed until the sub-area groundwater level exceeds 25% of the maximum acceptable decline.