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In an Extreme Drought Year, Are We Watering Too Much?

We can’t control the weather, but one controllable response to it across the state has been to limit and restrict water use.

The Department of Health and Human Services reports that 81 Public Water Systems in Nebraska have implemented either voluntary or mandatory restrictions on water use this summer. Locally, both Harvard and Grafton have done so.

But Natural Resources Districts like the Upper Big Blue, which covers portions of Clay County, aren’t sure that such measures are necessary just yet.

“We don’t want to have a knee-jerk reaction,” said Upper Big Blue public relations director Scott Snell. “We don’t have tried and true numbers since the spring, so there’s no way we would or would want to limit right now, because nobody knows yet.”

Snell explained that observation wells throughout the district are measured each spring to determine the groundwater level of the High Plains portion of the Ogallala Aquifer, above which we rest. The data from those 448 wells is averaged to pinpoint that level.

Spring is the chosen time of year, because the district allows the water table to rebound from the previous irrigation season, gathering precipitation from the fall and winter, including snow melt.

Measurements taken in spring 2012 showed that the average groundwater level was 7.41 feet above the district’s “allocation trigger” and 0.41 feet higher than spring 2011.

The allocation trigger is the level of the aquifer measured in 1978 – just greater than six feet below the baseline (the 1961 level, which is the year groundwater levels were first measured).

Therefore, despite the current drought, the fact that the level had risen between 2011 and 2012 and that the level was 7.41 feet above the trigger, the Upper Big Blue NRD has not recommended any restrictions be set.

“We obviously are concerned with (the drought’s effects),” Snell stressed, “but we just don’t know the effects until we measure this spring.”

To read the full story, see this week's issue of the Clay County News (9/5/12)

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