Thursday, July 24, 2014
   
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Holistic view of Nebraska’s water challenges offered

Nebraska Water Balance Alliance seeks solutions to balancing consumption needs, uses

Nebraska is facing a watershed moment when it comes to making decisions about water use.

That’s the message Nebraska Water Balance Alliance spokesperson and educator Lorre McKeone gave those who attended a dinner and presentation at Monsanto Learning Center Monday night.

The alliance, a non-profit group formed two years ago, seeks to develop solutions grounded in physical and measurable water.

McKeone said the group wants to facilitate understanding, increase awareness and help everyone look at solutions that produce a legacy of water.

“We owe it our kids,” she said.

Using a PowerPoint presentation, McKeone showed three earlier “watershed” moments in the state precipitated by drought.

In the 1890s when stream diversion began and the Unicameral established junior and senior water rights.

In the 1930s when surface reservoirs like Lake McConaughy and lakes and canal systems that provide hydropower were established.

In the 1950s when wells were dug and pumps installed to draw water from the aquifer.

After drought years 2000-05, followed by flooding last year, McKeone said Nebraskans still can’t get a handle on water use solutions.

More recent landmark events include the interstate water compact with Kansas and the Republican River, the Platte River Recovery Implementation program, legislation to address conflicts between surface and groundwater users and concern over aquifer depletion.

“It may be time to consider something different,” she said.

The NWBA not only takes into account blue water, or liquid water in streams, lakes, wetlands, reservoirs and underground aquifers, but green water.

The latter, McKeone said, is moisture that returns to the atmosphere through evaporation and transpiration from crops, forests and grasslands.

Water legislation and solutions have focused heavily on irrigation (blue water), especially since 67% of blue water is used to irrigate crops in the state.

Curtailing irrigation would bring about economic risk to a state like Nebraska, McKeone said, which is the most heavily irrigated state in the nation.

Besides producers, ag-related businesses are affected such as equipment, fertilizer and seed businesses.

McKeone said the NWBA looks at all water supply and consumption in an area to maximize high-value uses.

She compared water depletion and recharge to a checking account.

The NWBA encourages the use of innovative farming tools and practices, such as satellite telemetry to collect data about soil, and moisture probes to use less water.

Digging trenches in a field recharges the aquifer and decreases evaporation, she said, adding that no-till farming is another conservation practice.

After the presentation, Mc

Keone, Monsanto Learning Center manager Chandler Mazour, Central Platte Natural Resources District board member Jay Richeson and retired Dawson County Extension educator Dave Stenberg formed a panel to answer questions about water use.

For more information about the NWBA, or to become a member, call McKeone at 308-532-7246 or visit www.nebrakawaterbalance.com.

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