Is Groundwater Increasing Beneath the Tri-City Area?


Holdrege - Groundwater is a very important pieceof Nebraska's ag industry and while some area's deal with drought, including the Tri-cities, in the Tri-city area groundwater is actually rising.

The answer to why this is happeningisn't so much due to nature, but man made. This particular part of the Platteand Republican Basin is the most heavily irrigated area of the state and withall that ground water being pumped out, some may wonder why are levels areactually rising.

John Thorburn, a manager at theTri-Basin Natural Resource District, compared our relative abundance of waterto Middle-eastern oil.

"We're sometimes called the SaudiArabia of ground water because that's where the vast percentage of groundwaterin the high plains aquifer is contained and can be recharged by rainfall."

However, it's not just rainfall rechargingour aquifer in this case and its not the direct cause of irrigation.

"Rising groundwater levels inthis area aren't necessarily the result of irrigation although it does play arole. We see that as a result of river water that's been taken into canals and broughtover into the table lands and then seeps out of the canals. That serves as a supplementalrecharge in addition to rain."

These water diversion projects havebeen created in order to maintain this valuable and fluctuating resource. Althoughit helps, it isn't enough to simply add more water, that's where irrigationfactors in and the Tri-city area does a lot of it.

"Particularly this part of the Platteand Republican Basin are some of the most intensely irrigating areas of thehigh plains," said Thorburn.

That may be true but farmers are actuallyusing a third less water than just a decade ago. This reduction came after thewidespread switch to pivots from gravity irrigation, when too much water wasthe issue

"There was a huge issue with overirrigation," said Monty Vonasek, president of Central Valley Irrigation.

Vonasek said people need to be awareof the fact that groundwater needs to be saved and conserved for generations tocome both in quality and quantity.

The quantity of water plays a big rolefor Nebraskans especially in time of drought.

"Irrigation is the lifeblood of Nebraska.We use over 90% of ground water for irrigation," Vonasek.

That switch to more effect technologycoupled with water recharge from canals and rain adds up. Now we see more goinginto the ground than going out in the Tri-city area creating and growing theaquifer beneath out feet. On the other hand, other areas of the state have seenrecent declines. So how long will this water source last? Thorburn and othersin conservation and resource management have plans to keep it around a longtime.

"It's certainly our intent tomake it an indefinite source of water," he said.

That means cutting back on waterlimits for irrigators during times of drought

Thorburn added that despite theincrease near the Tri-cities and decreases in other areas of the state, overallwater levels are stable.