Western Nebraska Observer - Observations all along the line - Kimball & the Southern Panhandle First

Reduced and unstable streamflow into Oliver Reservoir causes concern

 

Tonia Copeland

Water levels at Oliver Reservoir, west of Kimball, have fluctuated significantly in the past two decades, leading the South Platte Natural Resources District to consider options for augmenting the water flow into the reservoir or minimizing loss due to seepage and evaporation.

Despite a moratorium they adopted in 2002 on drilling new wells with a capacity of 50 gallons per minute or greater, the South Platte Natural Resources District may consider drilling an augmentation well south of Oliver Reservoir with a capacity of 800 – 1,000 gallons per minute.

This measure, one of two being considered to augment water levels at Oliver Reservoir Recreation Area, was discussed at the second public meeting regarding diminished streamflow, on March 23.

Representatives from The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission and the South Platte Natural Resources District were present alongside adjacent landowners and concerned citizens and representatives of Olsson Associates, a firm hired last year to study the matter and devise solutions.

This meeting, the second in a series of three planned, was led by Jim Schneider, Ph.D., a senior scientist for Olsson Associates' water resources team.

Water elevation at Oliver Reservoir has been a major concern for SPNRD and area residents since 2013, when the levels at the reservoir reached an all time low and the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission ceased operations there, according to Ryan Reisdorff, SPNRD Water Resources Specialist.

"Many people voiced their concern about what could be done to increase the water level in the reservoir," Reisdorff said. "The discussions at that meeting (in 2013) caused the SPNRD to explore answers to those questions."

On March 9, 2016 the SPNRD contracted Olsson Associates to address the continued concern.

"This is part of our contract with the NRD, to hold these stakeholder public meetings to communicate the findings of our studies and to get input," Schneider said. "We will be taking notes of this discussion – questions and concerns that come out of this meeting today."

Schneider offered a presentation highlighting what studies have been done as well as the findings and two options for stabilizing the water levels at Oliver Reservoir.

"Even after the reservoir was rehabilitated early on, we generally filled up but have seen some significant fluctuations (in water levels) and, since the early 2000s, has seen some very low water levels," Schneider said.

The addition of a high capacity well is the first of two potential solutions, it is also the more economic option, expected to initially cost around $360,000, but according to Schneider it is also the only option that would achieve desired water levels as a stand alone measure.

"I got a proposal for you, kind of a third option," adjacent landowner Travis Freeburg said. "We own the center pivot (within the same area), my proposal would be to sell (SPNRD) our water rights off that pivot. You can use that well; it is not going to affect any other landowners. We are going to retire those acres, it is not going to be anymore water taken out of the aquifer than there already was and it is not going to affect anybody downstream."

Freeburg added that it would be difficult to get irrigators on board with drilling a well for recreation purposes when the producers have been allocated just 42 inches an acre annually since 2013.

"That sounds great. Of course, this could be done with an existing well," Schneider said. "At the time, we weren't aware of any potential options along those lines."

"This project isn't solely about recreation at Oliver Reservoir, but it also has to do with obligations the NRD has that could bring in some potential state funding," Schneider said.

The second alternative is to reduce the size of Oliver Reservoir by building a berm in the Northeast corner of the lake. This berm would the size of the reservoir, thereby reducing loss due to evaporation and seepage – two components that directly impact water levels at the reservoir.

The cost to build a large berm is estimated at more than $1 million, while a small berm is estimated at just more than $830,000.

Either of these projects could be funded, in part, by state funds and grants with a 60/40 cost share.

"That is not such a bad deal," Schneider said. "And the Water Sustainability fund is a newer fund established in 2014. You have to apply for this fund through the natural resources district. This money is also available at 60/40 cost share."

The next public meeting to discuss this issue has not yet been planned.

 

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