Water Year (2020-21) in Review

A summary of the 2020-21 water year (Oct. 1 to Sept. 30) makes one think of the old expression: “Is the glass half full or half empty?”

While much of the western United States suffered from a long-term drought (see the end-of-September drought map), Nebraska – and perhaps Lake McConaughy – fared a bit better.

If you’re in the “glass half empty” camp, inflows to Lake McConaughy during the water year (WY) amounted to just over 642,000 acre-feet (af), the 14th lowest WY total since Kingsley Dam was closed in 1941.  The historic median WY inflow is 928,964 af.

Typically, the months of October and November see the highest inflow totals to Lake McConaughy, but last year’s total for those two months amounted to only 79% of normal.  Spring (March-May) inflows were only 69% of normal.  As a result, the reservoir peaked on June 5 at elevation 3,250.9 feet, about 14 feet below capacity.  It reached its low elevation for the year in early September at 3,235.4 feet, a drawdown of 15.5 feet.

It should be noted that releases from the Environmental Account (a block of water managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to benefit wildlife habitat along the river) from mid-May through June contributed to the drawdown, as did releases for several irrigation canals along the North Platte and Platte Rivers operated by entities other than Central.

For those who subscribe to the “glass half full” attitude, despite the combined demands, releases during the water year were only 80% of the historic median and 90% of the 30-year median.  Also, much of the irrigated area served by Central benefitted from rainfall that was slightly above normal during the growing season, despite some stretches of hot, dry weather.

And the fact that the reservoir only declined by 15.5 feet given the scarcity of inflows – and little contribution from the South Platte River, water from which can be used to reduce releases from Lake McConaughy – is testament to the tremendous gains in producers’ on-farm irrigation efficiency, as well as efforts by Central to improve its conveyance system over the years.

With meteorologists predicting a second year of a La Niña weather pattern (a natural ocean-atmospheric condition marked by cooler-than-average sea surface temperatures across the central and eastern Pacific Ocean near the equator that impacts weather across the world), what does that mean for snowpack development in the Upper Platte Basin this fall and winter?

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center, the central Rocky Mountains will likely see continued dry conditions this winter with equal chances of below-, near- or above average temperatures, while Nebraska’s winter has equal chances for below-, near- or above-average precipitation and temperatures.

In other words, we’ll just have to wait and see.

Central, Dawson Public Power enter into study of potential consolidation

Last November, The Central Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation District announced that it was in preliminary discussions with the Dawson Public Power District involving a potential consolidation or merger of the two entities.  In December, both organizations’ boards agreed to share the costs of retaining a consultant to conduct a study to determine whether a consolidation is an economic and strategic fit that benefits both entities, as well as their customers and stakeholders.

The study by Power Systems Engineering (PSE), headquartered in Madison, Wisc., will first determine whether the proposed merger makes economic and strategic sense, not only for the utilities, but for their customers and stakeholders.

If the answer is “yes,” PSE will move to the next phase of the study, which is a more detailed analysis of the financial components of a merger necessary to satisfy the boards of both entities, as well as requirements of any lenders and/or bond rating agencies.  In other words, is the potential consolidation in the economic best interests of each organization?

The consultant will assess elements of the Districts’ governance, finances, facilities, existing contracts, employees, state/federal government regulations and operations of the projects, as well as other categories or topics that may arise during the study.

If that phase of the study again produces positive results, the next step would consist of developing additional details related to the creation of a consolidation plan.  The culmination of such plan would likely be measured in years, not months, because of the complex nature of such a task.

Nevertheless, the managers of both Districts are optimistic and excited about the potential benefits of consolidation.

“We’ve received quite a bit of positive feedback regarding this proposal,” said Gwen Kautz, general manager of Dawson Public Power District.  “It’s reassuring that others outside of our organizations see what we see about the potential in the proposed consolidation.

“There are, of course, hurdles in front of us and we will remain transparent throughout the process.  The directors of both boards will be faced with the challenge of protecting the interests of those whom they represent while weighing the potential positive impacts this would produce for both Districts and for central Nebraska.”

“That won’t be easy,” Kautz continued, “but finding collaborative solutions on certain aspects of the proposal to achieve a greater good will be a critical part of the process.”

The hallmark of public power has long been affordability, reliability and sustainability.  And the word “public” in the name means just that:  the utilities exist to serve the public.

“I believe we owe nothing less to the people we serve than to investigate how we can do so better,” said Devin Brundage, Central’s general manager.  “If there is an opportunity to improve energy costs and reliability while enhancing and sustaining the incredible benefits the project provides to stakeholders, be they surface water irrigators, those who benefit from groundwater recharge, recreational enthusiasts, or the wildlife that thrive in and around our project waters, our mission as public power utilities compels us to look closely at that opportunity.”

Some 80 years ago, he said, these utilities stepped up to bring new possibilities and prosperity to the people of central Nebraska.

“The challenge before us is to look to the future and continue to step forward,” Brundage said.  “We can’t provide exceptional value to our stakeholders by standing still.”

Mergers or consolidations of electric utilities in Nebraska are not without precedent.  Recent examples include the consolidation in 1998 of the Wayne Public Power District and the Northeast Nebraska Rural Public Power District, producing the utility known today as Northeast Power.  Also, the Seward County Public Power District was merged into Norris Public Power District in 2016.

In a markedly different consolidation, the Nebraska Public Power District (NPPD) was formed in 1970 from the merger of the Platte Valley Public Power and Irrigation District, Consumers Public Power District, and the Nebraska Public Power System (NPPS).

Each of these mergers resulted in stronger, more efficient utilities that benefitted the electric customers.

The proposed Central/Dawson consolidation is intended to create the same type of benefits for customers and stakeholders.  While the two districts are functionally very different, they possess complementary strengths that can be amplified.

Central owns and operates hydroplants currently generating power for wholesale.  The emissions-free, renewable-fueled hydroplants on the Supply Canal could conceivably provide either base-load or peaking power to customers within the area.  In addition, Central is a member of — and could provide access to — the Southwest Power Pool, a regional transmission organization that ensures reliable supplies of power, adequate transmission infrastructure and competitive wholesale electricity prices to a large part of the nation’s mid-section.

Central also owns and operates a system of reservoirs and canals to provide irrigation service and provides recreational opportunities and wildlife habitat benefits over a large stretch of the Platte River Valley.

Dawson’s assets include an electrical distribution system that serves a retail customer base of about 24,000 electric meters, rate-setting responsibilities, a stable electrical load and a strong, modern distribution system over an area that covers all or parts of seven counties in south-central Nebraska.

And finally, both Districts possess professional, dedicated and experienced employees who are good at what they do.

Together, they would form a vertically integrated entity covering all levels of the supply chain — generation, transmission and distribution — that would allow for improved efficiencies and reduced costs.  The proposed integration of the two organization has the potential to create unique opportunities to serve the public in new ways and to position the new entity to partner in economic development in the service territory and across the state.


Legislature passes bill to allow directors to represent constituents on contract issues

A bill that would remove obstacles to better constituent representation by members of Central’s board of directors was passed by the Nebraska Legislature on Aug. 3 and signed into law by the governor.

Specifically, LB1055 would allow members of a public power and irrigation district’s board to represent the interests of their constituents when it comes to discussing and providing input on matters related to standard form water service agreements and lot leases at District-owned property near Johnson Lake and Lake McConaughy, if a board member also holds such an agreement with Central.

Sen. Matt Williams (Dist. 36, Gothenburg) introduced LB1136 which contained the necessary changes to the Accountability and Disclosure Act.

The bill was amended into LB1055, which was introduced by Sen. Tom Brewer (Dist. 43, Gordon), that changes provisions regarding elections and the Nebraska Political Accountability and Disclosure Act. Three other bills were also amended into LB1055 and the bill was designated as one of two priority bills by the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee, of which Sen. Brewer is the chairman.

Central’s board members are now allowed to have an interest in a con-tract with the district. They will still be required to disclose a potential conflict of interest to the Accountability and Disclosure Commission and abstain from voting on the agreements in question.

Board members will, however, be free to discuss and provide input to their fellow board members about said agreements, thus allowing them to more properly represent constituents who elected them to the board.

The bill also repeals another section of law to eliminate the prohibition against a member of certain boards from having an interest in a con-tract with the governmental entity. This is an unusual provision rooted in events which took place more than 80 years ago during the formation and construction of public power and irrigation districts.

Finally, the bill eliminates the previous possibility that board members with lease agreements or water service agreements could be removed from the board if they are party to certain contracts.

Central and its constituents would like to thank Sens. Williams and Brewer for their efforts to secure passage of LB1055/LB1136 and members of the Legislature who voted in favor of the bill.


Bill to Permit Board Members to Better Represent Constituents in 2020 Session

Sen. Matt Williams of Gothenburg (Dist. 36 of the Nebraska Legislature) introduced LB1136 during the 2020 Legislative session on behalf of The Central Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation District.

LB1136 is a bill to prescribe when an interest in a contract is prohibited and eliminate a prohibition against such interest by a public power and irrigation district board member.  More to the point, the bill will permit members of a public power and irrigation district’s board to represent the interests of their constituents when it comes to discussing and providing input on matters related to standard form water service agreements and lot leases at District-owned property near Johnson Lake and Lake McConaughy.

To better understand the bill’s intent, background on the issue is necessary.

About two years ago, during the process of discussing the terms of lot leases for homes/cabins at lakes owned by Central, an inquiry was made by a third party as to whether or not two members of Central’s board of directors who own homes at Johnson Lake could participate in discussions about the leases, and vote in favor of, or against, the final lease agreement.

The two members of the board with leases at the lake did participate in discussions about the lease proposal – after all, they were elected to their positions largely because of the fact that they owned homes at the lake and would faithfully represent their constituents’ best interests, as well as those of the District – but they abstained from voting on the final long-term lease.  As advised, they also sent letters to the Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission (NADC) detailing their potential conflict of interest in the matter.

As the issue evolved, the ability of other members of the board who are irrigation customers to discuss and vote upon annual irrigation delivery rates was also called into question.  Central sought an advisory opinion from the NADC which concluded that board members “… who have present or prospective water service agreements with the District may not participate in discussions and voting on standard form water service agreements.”

Again, the members were elected by their constituents precisely because they are irrigation customers and, as such, understand the issues related to the District’s irrigation operations.  In short, they were elected to represent their constituents’ best interests.

The prohibition of voting on – or even discussing matters related to lot lease agreements or water service agreements — seems on its face to disenfranchise the very voters who elected the board members to their positions.  Further, constraints on the ability of individuals from voting on, or discussing, matters related to leases and/or water service agreements places an obstacle to attracting potential board members in the future.

Central understands the NADC’s position; its members followed the letter of the law to interpret the current statute.  However, Central does not believe the intent of the statute was to absolutely prohibit irrigation customers or lease holders from serving on Central’s board, or discussing and voting upon standard form agreements.  Indeed, Central has for almost 80 years had board members who were irrigation customers and, since the more recent implementation of lake lot leases, board members who are cabin-owners at District lakes.  Their ability to bring that knowledge and perspective to the board has proven invaluable over the years in discussions that pertain to those leases and/or water service agreements.

The bill would have the following effects:

First, the bill amends a section in the Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Act so that it also applies to entities formed under Chapter 70, which contains statutes related to the formation and operation of public power utilities.  Members of Central’s board could have an interest in a contract with the district.  They would still be required to disclose a potential conflict of interest to the NADC and abstain from voting on the agreements in question.  They would, however, be free to discuss and provide input to their fellow board members about said agreements, thus allowing them to more properly represent constituents who elected them to the board.

Second, the bill repeals a portion of statute to eliminate the prohibition against a member of certain boards from having an interest in a contract with the governmental entity.  This is an unusual provision rooted in events which took place more than 80 years ago.  It would also eliminate the current possibility that board members with lease agreements or water service agreements could be removed from the board.

The bill will have no effect on irrigation districts formed under Chapter 46 where, in most cases, only those individuals who are irrigation customers and/or landowners are able to vote for candidates for boards of directors or serve on those irrigation districts’ board of directors.

LB1136 had the support of the NADC at the bill’s hearing in February.  Greg Heiden and DeDe Peterson, representing irrigation customers and cabin-owner, respectively, also testified in support of the bill, which was unanimously voted out of committee for floor debate.  It was subsequently amended into LB1055 as part of a package of bills prioritized by the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee.  LB1055 was placed on select file without opposition on March 9 and was scheduled for advancement to final reading when the Legislature took an extended recess on March 16 because of COVID-19 virus concerns.  The bill’s priority status will, hopefully, lead to its appearance on the Legislature’s agenda when the Unicameral reconvenes on July 20.

Central extends its thanks to Sen. Williams for sponsoring the bill and to Sen. Brewer and his committee for including it in a package of bills with a priority designation.

Review of ‘Unusual’ 2018-19 Water Year

To say it has been an unusual year is perhaps an understatement.

The 2018-19 water year ended on Sept. 30 (a water year runs from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30 of the next year) and it was a year marked by heavy and frequent rain storms, floods, planting delays, bone-chilling winter temperatures, and even “bomb cyclones,” among other anomalies in terms of weather and water.

While this part of Nebraska was largely spared from the calamities that befell other parts of the state (except for the deluge that caused flooding along Turkey Creek in Kearney and the Wood River flooding that struck several other central Nebraska towns), it has also been an unusual year for the water supply at Lake McConaughy.  While total water year inflows were above average, the 1.19 million acre-feet barely cracked the Top 20, finishing at 19th highest in the reservoir’s history.  (An acre-foot is the volume of water that would cover one acre with 12 inches.)

But it was the inflows during the summer months that made the water year unusual.  Normally inflows are highest in October and then in May and early June.  In fact, from October of last year through May, inflows were pretty much in line with the normal monthly averages.

Then came summer.  Inflows to Lake McConaughy during June were twice the normal amount; more than two and a half times normal in July; and 348 percent of normal in August.  In fact, the 162,843 acre-feet (a-f) that flowed into Lake McConaughy in August was the highest monthly total for the year.  Historically, as one would expect in a snowmelt-fed basin, inflows during August are near the low point for the year, trailing only July (median inflows of 46,815 a-f in August and 45,718 a-f in July).

Several factors converged to yield this outcome.  First, mountain snowpack in Colorado and Wyoming was above average in all three basins – the upper and lower North Platte River and the South Platte River – that affect river flows into Nebraska.  The subsequent runoff, particularly in the North Platte Basin in which Lake McConaughy is located, entered U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (USBR) reservoirs in Wyoming that were already holding plentiful supplies of carryover storage from the last year.

Second, frequent precipitation across much of the Platte Valley suppressed demand for irrigation.  Rainfall during the growing season (April through September) collected in Central’s Holdrege gauge totaled 25.44 inches, compared with the 20-year average of 18.63 inches and 19.0 inches since 1957.

However, the frequency of precipitation perhaps played a more significant part in reducing irrigation demand than the amount of rainfall.  Few weeks went by this summer without some amount of rain, which was often enough to dissuade an irrigator from starting his pivot or opening the gates on his pipe.

And finally, a mid-July tunnel collapse on an irrigation canal that delivers water to the Goshen Irrigation District in Wyoming and the Gering-Ft. Laramie Canal in Nebraska’s Panhandle, prevented delivery of water to about 107,000 acres in the two states.  With abundant water already in storage and the approaching need to make room for next year’s inflows, releases from the USBR reservoirs that normally would been diverted into the two canals continued downstream to Lake McConaughy.

Lake McConaughy’s lowest elevation (3,252.5 feet above sea level) during the 2018-19 water year actually occurred on Oct. 1, 2018, the first day of the water year.  The reservoir’s peak elevation occurred on July 15 at 3,260.1 feet, declining to elevation 3,257.9 in mid-August and currently stands near elevation 3,259.0, about six feet below full elevation.

And here’s an interesting observation:  Lake McConaughy’s elevation of 3,258.7 feet on Aug. 31 was the same as it was on Aug. 1.  A check back through the data reveals that that has never happened in the reservoir’s 79 years.  While August’s inflows were well short of a record amount, the monthly total did rank fifth behind 2010, 1973, 2011 and the record of more than 328,000 a-f in 1983.

So if you’ve noticed quite a bit more water flowing down the Platte River this summer, that’s the explanation.  A lot of water going into Lake McConaughy, and once it was released, not much demand for it to be diverted into the many irrigation canals along the central Platte.

With long-range forecasts calling for a cold and wet winter, one wonders what Mother Nature has in store for Nebraska in the new water year.


Fund drive launched for water education in honor of Tim Anderson

At the 2018 Nebraska State Irrigation Association/Nebraska Water Resources Association joint annual convention, NSIA leaders launched the Tim Anderson Memorial Water Learning Project, a fund drive to solicit contribution in an effort to advance water education and sustainability in Nebraska.

Former Governor and U.S. Senator Ben Nelson was on hand at a luncheon to introduce the effort and spoke glowingly of Anderson’s efforts to raise awareness about water issues in Nebraska and advocate for cooperative, common sense solutions to disputes over water, rather than resorting to litigation or a win/lose approach to water issues.

Below is the text of a letter from Nelson which is among the outreach tools from the NSIA committee that is coordinating the fundraising effort to create an endowment aimed at bringing Nebraskans together on water issues.

Tim Anderson Memorial Water Learning Project

Carrying that Pail Together:  A Letter from former Nebraska Governor and U.S. Senator Benjamin Nelson

Dear Friend,

I am pleased to announce the creation of the Tim Anderson Memorial Water Learning Project.  I was first approached by the Nebraska State Irrigation Association in January to discuss the idea of developing a special memorial in honor of long-time natural resources advocate Tim Anderson.  Tim Anderson was a very good friend of mine who mentored me and took me under his wing.  Tim faithfully informed me of our state’s difficult water issues while I had the distinct honor of serving as Nebraska’s Governor and Senator.  Tim passed away in October of 2017 after a passionate career centered around Nebraska’s water resources.

To honor his memory, I would like to share a story about Tim with you as well.  Tim would often sit on his dock at his cabin watching the sunset over Plum Creek Canyon Lake on a supply canal west of Johnson Lake.  He would hum the bars of one of his favorite songs, “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay,” by Otis Redding on those warm summer evenings:

Sittin’ in the mornin’ sun,

I’ll be sittin’ when the evenin’ comes.

Watchin’ the ships roll in,

Then I watch ‘em roll away again.

He would envision those ships coming and going, docking, unloading and loading up again, then steaming off to another port.  Throughout his career, Tim looked upon people as coming and going, unloading information and gathering information and then taking these bits and pieces of information and ideas to other destinations.  His goal was to bring together this continuum of thoughts and concerns and engage people to have meaningful conversations.  Tim believed that if folks could sit down together and discuss water concerns and ideas with equal passion that those around the table might realize that they have more in common rather than a barn full of differences.  It was his definition of “water collegiality,” where an inclusive vision of Nebraska’s shared water future was attainable through productive discourse and functional compromise.  By no coincidence, this song was played at his funeral.

The Tim Anderson Memorial Water Learning Project can achieve such objectives as:

  • Supporting the Nebraska Water Leaders Academy – The Academy provides learning opportunities that focus on cooperative approaches to solving Nebraska’s water issues.
  • Creating Water Resources Partnerships – Hosting “think tank” sessions with water leaders around Nebraska.

Through your donation to the Tim Anderson Memorial Water Learning Project, you will be directly impacting Nebraska’s shared water future by creating a greater understanding of Nebraska’s water heritage.  You will essentially be building a “house of water sustainability” whereby collegiality is the foundation.  Discourse becomes the load-bearing walls.  Education frames the windows and doors of creativity.  Compromise and understanding become the roof under which conservation is blanketed.  The value of this house is a direct reflection of your generosity.

As you know, Nebraska is blessed with a wonderful bounty of water, but it is imperative to keep our water plentiful and clean.  Your gift will be aiding the promotion of water collegiality, developing water leaders, and ensuring that Tim’s seminal message of how blessed we are to have this water heritage lives onward.  He carried his virtue for water sustainability like a pail full of water.

Nebraska is one of the few places in the world fortunate enough to have this water resource.  Tim spent time sittin’ on his own dock surrounded by this gift of water and I want to thank you for considering a gift to the Tim Anderson Memorial Water Learning Project.


/s/ Ben Nelson

The Honorable Benjamin Nelson

Nebraska Governor and United States Senator

For more information about contributing to the fund, you can call Lee Orton at (402) 476-0162, or print the form below and mail it to:

Tim Anderson Memorial Water Learning Project

c/o Water Futures Partnership-Nebraska, Inc.

1233 Lincoln Mall, Ste. #201

Lincoln, NE  68508

Contribution amount (Please make checks payable to the Tim Anderson Memorial Water Learning Project):
$1,000 __$500 __$300 __$250 __$100 __$50 __$25 __Other __
CityStateZip Code
Mastercard __Visa __Discover __Credit Card No.Exp. Date:___/___
___ Please call me at the phone number that I provided.  I would like to discuss donating real property in the form of items, collections, and/or land.
*We do not trade, rent, sell or share the names, addresses or e-mails of our donors.  Your contribution is tax deductible to the fullest extent of the law.

Central Hosts Leadership Nebraska Class XI

Central Hosts Leadership Nebraska Class XI

The Central Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation District had the great pleasure to host Class XI of the Leadership Nebraska program at Kingsley Dam/Lake McConaughy on Aug. 16, 2018.

Numbering around 25 people, the class learned about the construction, development and operation of the Central District while visiting the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission’s Visitors Center/Water Interpretive Center, as well as Lake McConaughy’s outlet structures and the Kingsley Hydroplant.

During the briefing about the District’s operations, the group learned that the annual economic impact of the Kingsley Dam/Lake McConaughy hydroelectric-irrigation project is estimated to be between $556 to $806 million (according to a study conducted by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation as part of the development of the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program in the early 2000s).

The economic benefits were diverse and derived from irrigation for agriculture, recreational pursuits at Lake McConaughy and associated facilities, hydropower generation and power plant cooling water.

Devin Brundage (top center in red shirt) explains the operation of the Kingsley Hydroplant to Leadership class members.

The class also listened to a presentation by Colby Johnson, NGPC’s regional park superintendent, about the economic and social impact at recreation at Lake McConaughy/Lake Ogallala as well as throughout Nebraska.

The product of planning committee formed by the Nebraska State Chamber of Commerce and Industry in 2005, the first class was assembled in 2007.  The program is geared toward people who have demonstrated community and professional leadership experiences and who desire to further develop their leadership skills and potential.

According to the Leadership Nebraska web site:

“Leadership Nebraska is a program designed for current and future Nebraska leaders to view the economic and political challenges and opportunities that face Nebraska.  (The program’s) mission is to identify, educate, communicate with, inspire and engage Nebraska’s current and emerging leaders for the well-being of the state of Nebraska.”

With the spray emitting from the bypass valve at Kingsley Hydroplant as a backdrop, Class XI poses for a group photo.

Class sessions are held in various parts of the state.  Each of the two-day sessions focuses on important issues in those areas and typically cover topics related to economic development, workforce development and education, agriculture and the environment, government and politics, and health and human services.

Central provided lunch to the class as part of the day’s activities.

(Note: Central employs three graduates of the Leadership Nebraska program:  Engineering Services Manager Eric Hixson, Class I, 2007; Public Relations Manager Jeff Buettner, Class XI, 2012; and Gothenburg Division Manager Devin Brundage, Class IX, 2016.)


Tours and Interesting People

Tours and Interesting People

I just completed a series of tours of facilities that are part of The Central Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation District’s hydropower-irrigation project.  In fact, I was leading tours on seven of ten work days over a recent two-week period.

That in itself is not news.  Organizing and leading tours of the project is part of my job, a part that I greatly enjoy, and it was just happenstance that the tours were all scheduled so closely together.  Such tours are a valuable part of our public relations tool box.  You can look at maps, diagrams and videos, but nothing beats “boots on the ground.”

As an aside, I’ve often wished that I had kept track of how many project tours I’ve personally been part of over the last 28 years, but sadly, neglected to do so.  I’m guessing that it’s around 200.

Groups that have toured Central’s project are incredibly diverse.  Space does not permit a listing of the many different kinds of groups and organizations who made the trip to Lake McConaughy and back, but they range from irrigation customers and cabin owners to representatives of governmental agencies and local service clubs.

Participants have come from across the state and from all over the world.  We’ve had visitors from Africa, Asia, South America and Europe.  There’ve been politicians, political candidates and professors; senior citizens in life-long learning programs and students in law school, graduate school and high school.  We’ve hosted groups from environmental organizations, members of the media, and Extension educators from across the state.  And on and on.

But it’s not the number of groups that have toured the project over the years that sticks out, it’s the hundreds of interesting people who make up those groups.

One such person was Harold Stevens, the late Dawson County Extension agent, who was far more than just a tour participant.  Working with Central personnel, he organized what he called “5-O-5 tours.”  The name came from the plan for the tour to depart from Lexington at 5 a.m., and return the same day at 5 p.m.

His tours began in the 1950s when Harold would string together a caravan of vehicles and visit facilities operated by Central, the Platte Valley Public Power and Irrigation District (which merged with two other public power entities to become the Nebraska Public Power District) and other area irrigation companies.

At the time, Kingsley Dam, Lake McConaughy, the hydroelectric plants, and the canal systems and reservoirs were still relatively new on the scene, wonders of modern engineering that attracted visitors from across the region.

A few decades later, the caravans – which were assembled once or twice a year – were replaced by Central’s passenger van and traversed the route two or three times each summer.  At some point in the 1990s, Harold was reminded that, given the dwindling rural population of the state and changing habits, fewer and fewer people were around who knew what it meant to get out of bed before 5 a.m.

It took some convincing, but we were eventually able to persuade him to re-name the tour, calling it the “7-O-7 tour.”  The change in timing helped continue to populate the tour and Harold kept at it until he had organized and participated in 104 “5-O-5 / 7-O-7” tours.  His last tour took place in 2003, only months before he passed away at the age of 85.

At one time, it was common for Central to conduct two-day tours simply because there are a lot of miles to travel and many interesting sights to see.  The end of the first day found the groups at Jeffrey Lodge, where a boat cruise on Jeffrey Lake, a steak dinner and continued discussion of any number of current topics awaited.

In today’s busy world, it seems that potential tour participants are reluctant – or unable – to escape their day jobs for two whole days.  One-day tours – kind of like Stevens’ “7-O-7 tours” – are now the most common.  And that’s a shame because we’re unable to really take in the whole project in a single day, simply because of the time constraints and distances involved.

But that leads to my point.  We still offer tours of the project.  Put together a group of nine or 10 folks who might be interested, arrange a date or dates that work and we’ll take care of the rest.  It won’t cost you a dime, other than the cost of traveling to our front door.

There’s much to see and experience.  And then you can become part of another group full of interesting people who have toured the Central District’s hydro-irrigation project.


Vigilance Necessary to Protect Water Sustainability Fund

Vigilance Necessary to Protect Water Sustainability Fund

You can’t say it wasn’t expected.

A bill in the Nebraska Legislature this session sought to take money from the Water Sustainability Fund (WSF) for a purpose that was completely unrelated to the original intent and objectives of the WSF.

Thankfully, the bill did not pass, largely due to the efforts of a number of senators who opposed the measure.  However, it reminds those who are responsible for managing the state’s water resources to remain vigilant about such future attempts.

First, a little background.

Former State Senator Tom Carlson of Holdrege (Dist. 38) introduced a bill during the 2013 session that created the Water Funding Task Force.  The task force consisted of 34 members concerned with ensuring sustainable use of Nebraska’s water resources.  Original task force members represented virtually all of Nebraska’s water resources interests, from agriculture, utilities and municipalities to wildlife and recreation.

The task force’s objectives were ambitious in scope, but can be condensed into a few primary goals: make recommendations for developing water-funding legislation that would contribute to achieving sustainable use of water in Nebraska; identify potential sources of funding for programs, projects and activities; and develop a set of criteria by which potential projects would be evaluated and ranked according to how well they met the criteria.

The task force met more than 30 times between July and December 2013 at various sites across the state.  The product of these meetings was the establishment of a Water Sustainability Fund intended to assist projects (with a 40-percent match from the sponsor) that increased the available water supply, reduced water use, increased stream flows, improved water quality, provided flood control enhancements, ensured adequate water for agricultural, municipal and industrial uses, addressed wildlife needs, and improved recreational benefits.  The efforts culminated in the passage of LB1098 during the 2014 legislative session, which created the WSF and assigned its oversight to an expanded Natural Resources Commission.

The scoring criteria for the WSF developed by the task force was later refined by the Natural Resources Commission with focus on significant and expensive water issues that match the fund’s objectives.

The recent attempt in the Legislature was to reallocate funds from the WSF for use in establishing water supplies for community gardens.  Certainly a commendable purpose, but it failed to fit with any of the objectives identified for water sustainability funding.  Perhaps more importantly, passage of such a bill would have set a dangerous precedent, one that would have encouraged additional efforts to siphon funding from the WSF.

The WSF has seen in the past two years a reduction in its funding, as money is reallocated to help address the state’s budget shortfall.  That’s understandable; almost all state cash funds have been reduced.  Additional hands shaking the piggy bank in the future would diminish the state’s ability to achieve the WSF’s objectives.

Memories surface of how other state program funds have been tapped for purposes other than originally intended, based on the argument that “times have changed and so can funding appropriations.”  That may be true in some cases, but not for the WSF; its task remains the same.  Now entering its fourth grant cycle, the need to sustain and protect Nebraska’s water resources is as great as ever and it is the state as a whole that will benefit.

The next drought is always lurking around the corner.  When it inevitably arrives, the water sustainability improvements made possible by the WSF will prove their worth.  Nebraskans who value the original intent of the Water Sustainability Fund to fund programs and projects that help ensure the availability of water supplies for future generations should remain on guard and be thankful to those who worked so hard to establish a dedicated source of funding to enhance and protect Nebraska’s water resources.

Tim Anderson: Colleague, Mentor, Friend

Tim Anderson: Colleague, Mentor, Friend

This is a reproduction of my first column for the Kearney Hub as a “Soils and Streams” contributor since the untimely passing last October of my predecessor, Tim Anderson.  For years, Tim contributed to the Hub, so it seems fitting that I use this space to share some memories and observations about working with him for more than 27 years.

Tim and I joined The Central Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation District in Holdrege at about the same time in August 1990.  I actually arrived a couple of weeks earlier than Tim because he was just transitioning from his position as executive director of the Holdrege Chamber of Commerce and had a few “irons in the fire” that he wanted to take care of before leaving the Chamber.

Central was then in the midst of seeking a new license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to operate its hydroelectric facilities associated with Kingsley Dam.  Don Long, the assistant to the general manager at the time who was responsible for public as well as governmental relations for the District, was nearing retirement and Central’s management decided that with the relicensing process underway and a growing need to expand the District’s outreach to the public and the media, it would be best to hire two people for a new public relations department.

Tim was 12 years older than I and much more experienced in working with state senators and other governmental officials, so it was predetermined he would assume the role as Central’s lobbyist and spokesman to the public and the media.  I would support various public relations activities, including the District’s newsletter, news releases, brochures, and eventually our plunge into the “World Wide Web” with the launch of our first web site.

Over the many ensuing years, Tim and I worked together on many projects and traveled many miles together on tours of the project and other Central-related PR business.

One of my favorite memories was one of our first projects:  the search for a time capsule that had been buried inside of Kingsley Dam for opening on the dam’s 100th anniversary.  In 1991, as part of the dam’s 50th anniversary, Tim thought it would be great to retrieve the time capsule and place it in a more accessible place for opening in 2041.  There was just one problem: no one knew where the capsule was located.

A search of Central’s archives turned up no record of its location and an older employee’s vague memory of a plaque describing the capsule’s resting place being sent to the State Capitol for safe-keeping turned out to be a dead end — no one at the Capitol had ever seen or heard of such a plaque.

Undeterred, we pored through old photographs of the dam’s construction, including photos taken during the dedication ceremonies in July 1941.  We found one depicting two young girls – daughters of Central engineers – poised to cut a cable and send the time capsule through a casing deep into the earthen dam.  Thanks to this photographic evidence, we were able to determine the approximate location of the shaft near the south end of the dam.

Tim enlisted the assistance of Rodger Knaggs, then Central’s Kingsley Dam superintendent and an experienced “beach-comber,” to use his metal detector to locate the top of the casing.  In a few days, Rodger called to say he’d gotten some promising “pings.”  Coincidentally, the highway across the dam was being resurfaced; once the concrete and asphalt were removed, it would be easier to find the opening to the shaft.

Tim came into my office and said, “Grab your camera!  Rodger thinks he found the capsule!”

We jumped into his car and raced to Kingsley Dam, arriving just in time to watch the retrieval efforts involving use of a hook at the end of a long cable.  However, it soon became apparent that the casing had bowed enough over the past 50 years that removal of the capsule would be impossible.

Tim was clearly disappointed, but said, “Let’s mark the spot and try not to lose it again!”  Maybe, he continued, in another 50 years some new approach or machinery would make it possible to remove the capsule in time for the dam’s 100th anniversary.  Always the optimist.

On the subject of his columns for the Hub, they were always interesting.  He would give his handwritten article to me to “clean up,” since my college education was in journalism, but whereas I performed the editing function – grammar, punctuation, syntax and the like –the topics and content of the columns were always his.

Over the years, he wrote about many things.  Most were uncontroversial, but he wasn’t averse to occasionally writing about issues that were important to him, even when he knew he might ruffle some feathers.  His topics were typically related to irrigation, natural resources, the importance of public power, the Nebraska Legislature, politics, drought, water law, interstate water issues, and the need for “more young people with fresh ideas to carry on the work” in water resources management.

He even wrote about “global warming,” (or “climate change,” as it’s now called) and what it might mean for the future of Nebraska’s agriculture.  And as part of a column about Legislative leadership, he expressed disappointment that term limits would lead to Sen. Ernie Chambers’ departure from the Legislature at the end of 2008, taking with him his sharp wit and ability to halt the passage of “badly written and poorly conceived bills.”

In the end, what I’ll remember most about Tim were his people skills.  Tim knew people.  I don’t mean he just knew their names and titles; he knew about people.  He could relate stories about prominent politicians, businessmen and community leaders, but not in a name-dropping way.  He knew their personalities and how to best interact with them.  He was the consummate “people person.”

At the same time, he rarely talked about himself or his accomplishments.  He’d share a tidbit or two, usually while talking about someone else as part of the story, but “I” was a rarely used pronoun.  He had a way of turning the conversation, almost imperceptively, back to being about the person with whom he was speaking.

While I’m continuing Tim’s role as a Hub columnist, there’s no way to replace him.  At his funeral, one of the songs Tim chose for the service was “I Did It My Way,” by Frank Sinatra.  Yes, Tim, you certainly did.

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