The Central Platte Natural Resources District is partnering with the Cozad Ditch Company to manage the Cozad Irrigation Canal and to lease surface water as
part of its efforts to increase Platte River flows and protect endangered species.
The increased flow levels are required under the three-state Platte River Recovery Implementation Program (PRRIP) and state law. The lease will divert unused surface water flows from the irrigation canal back into the Platte River. CPNRD will also utilize the canal after irrigation season to store excess Platte River flows, when available. By diverting excess flows into the canal, water will recharge the aquifer and will filter back into the Platte River.
"This project helps secure water for agriculture uses which is great for the local community and economy," says Bill Vasey, CPNRD director and landowner from Cozad.
The NRD has negotiated to lease from the company 117.22 cubic feet per second (cfs) of water that was previously used for irrigation by landowners who were serviced by the canal and now use groundwater instead. The CPNRD has applied for water rights from the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources for excess flows for recharge and to increase river flows. This project allows CPNRD to return water to the river which will help protect endangered species, manage high river flows, and recharge the aquifer.
"Using the best scientific hydrologic analysis available, from a Cooperative Hydrology Study, the use of excess flows through the canal and groundwater recharge, combined with the return to the river of water previously used for irrigation, will result in an addition of up to 7,900 acre-feet of water per year to the river," says Ron Bishop, general manager of the Central Platte NRD.
Maintenance and operations of the canal will be shared between the NRD and the Cozad Ditch Company. A major canal rehabilitation project is underway and will be completed in three phases. Phase one started this January and consists of tree removal and shaping of the banks on the lower half of the canal.
"It looks like a whole new system with trees being removed and debris being cleaned out of the canals," according to Ron Stear, president of the Cozad Ditch Company. "This will make the canal more efficient and easier to maintain," said Stear.
The Cozad Irrigation Canal has been in place and diverting Platte River water since its water right was approved by the state nearly 120 years ago on December 28, 1894. As recent as the mid-1980s, the Cozad Ditch Company had water rights to irrigate over 25,000 acres of land in the area between Gothenburg and Lexington in Dawson County.
In the late 1980s, the state reviewed the water rights and irrigated acres of several canal and irrigation companies to ascertain that all of the water rights were being put to a beneficial purpose and that all the acres authorized to be irrigated with the Platte River water were, in fact, being irrigated. The state found that nearly 9,000 acres in the Cozad Ditch Company's area that had previously been irrigated with water from the Platte River had stopped using river water delivered by the canal and switched to groundwater for their supply. As a result, the state adjusted the water right and
the acres that were authorized to use Platte River water for irrigation from 25,190 acres down to 16,186 acres.
"Landowners and farmers along the Cozad Canal are eager to improve the efficiency of the canal, recharge the aquifer, and help protect river flows," says Jim Brownfield, Cozad Ditch Company board member and landowner. "This partnership helps keeps the canal viable while still providing water to the service area and at the same time help keeps the Platte River in compliance with state agreements."
Project benefits include:
- Providing groundwater recharge that protects supplies and protects quality.
- Providing enhanced flows to the Platte River by returning excess flows to the river during times of need and returning excess natural flow irrigation rights to the river for enhanced flows.
- Protecting water supply for surface water and groundwater users.
- Helping meet the requirements of the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program agreement between Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska and the U.S. government.
- Helping meet the requirements of LB 962 to return the Platte River to its 1997 level of use (3,400 acre-feet).
- Helping meet the additional requirement of LB 962 to return the area above Elm Creek to a "fully appropriated" condition from the current "over-appropriated" condition.
"We have now reached a point where there are additional water right acres that would like to convert to a groundwater source, so part of the management strategy is to convert part of those rights that want to convert into recharge rights to protect the groundwater supply and convert part of the rights to augmenting flows back to the river," Bishop adds.