Central Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation District irrigators will get no more than 6.7 inches of water for the 2008 irrigation season. Central's board, at a recent meeting, determined that is the amount of water it can deliver next year.
The board's action is the result of continued low storage conditions at Lake McConaughy, says Tim Anderson, Central's public relations manager. The lake currently stands at elevation 3,205.4 feet above mean sea level, with a volume of 446,700 acre-feet (25.6% of operating capacity).
Although the lake ended this year's irrigation season about 6 feet higher in elevation and held about 90,000 acre-feet more than last year, Cory Steinke, civil engineer, says inflows to the lake were the fifth lowest on record. The four lowest inflow years have occurred since the 2001-02 water year. Inflows were again hampered by below average runoff from snowpack in the Rocky Mountains of Wyoming and Colorado. Steinke says snowmelt runoff in the Platte River Basin was below normal for the eighth consecutive year.
In addition, he says, drought in Nebraska's Panhandle this spring and summer and unregulated groundwater use above the lake have continued to limit inflows. Central estimates that approximately 100,000 acre-feet of water per year is no longer reaching Lake McConaughy because of irrigation well development in recent years that is intercepting groundwater formerly destined for the North Platte River.
Irrigation deliveries are scheduled to take place over an eight-week period, beginning on June 24 and ending on Aug. 19, 2008. Under normal circumstances, Central delivers 15 to 18 inches per acre over a 12-week season. It will be the fourth consecutive year of below-normal deliveries. Central set allocations of 6.7 inches per acre in 2005, 8.4 inches per acre in 2006 and 6.7 inches per acre in 2007.
Lake McConaughy was able to gain elevation compared with last year because of conservation measures and plentiful rainfall in the irrigated area. Central's irrigation customers used an average of about 4 inches of surface water per acre this summer.