The Six Mile Canal has been in place and diverting Platte River water since 1894, withdrawing an average of 2,377 acre-feet of water annually. After 116 years of use, the more than 30 landowners and farmers along the canal are eager to convert their land to groundwater use. (Photo/Central Platte Natural Resources District)
The Central Platte Natural Resources District is in the final stages of an effort to buy out a Six Mile irrigation canal
along the Platte River in Central Nebraska.
The CPNRD partnered with nearly 30 landowners – working with county and state government agencies – to complete an ongoing effort to close and fill the irrigation canal that was built by the Six Mile Canal Company in 1894 and was used to deliver water to irrigate area crops. The NRD has negotiated a buyout of water rights owned by land owners who were serviced by the Six Mile Canal Company as part of its efforts to increase Platte River flows to levels required under the three-state Platte River Recovery Program and state law.
“This project allows us to return water to the river which will help protect endangered species, make irrigation more efficient for farmers, put more land into crop production and improve public safety,” said Ron Bishop, General Manager of the Central Platte Natural Resources District. “This is a win-win situation for everyone involved, from the farmers and land owners, to the State Department of Roads, to the County and for the NRD,” Bishop said.
“We don’t farm with horses anymore. With the surface water system, we had to be at the fields several times each day, which increased fuel and labor cost,” said Roger Wahlgren, a Six Mile Canal Board Member. “I can now irrigate with a touch of button on my cell phone which can turn my pivot on or off and saves me time and labor. By doing this project, it has eliminated short crop rows and probably increased the value of land where the canal used to be by $500 an acre. Now we can leave the water in the river for future uses and save $15 an acre per year in fees for canal operations and maintenance. The CPNRD has been a godsend to work with. They bent over backwards to do what we needed and helped out a lot with engineering and legal issues. Without the NRD spearheading this project and providing ongoing support at every step along the way, this project never would have happened,” Wahlgren said.
More than 116 years ago, farming with a team of horse and irrigation from surface water canals was considered “new” technology. In modern agriculture, tractors with GPS systems are much more efficient than horses and groundwater irrigation is much more efficient than ditch irrigation, however, thousands of acres of land have been legally bound to the ditch irrigation system for decades. The CPNRD worked with land owners, County government and banks to release the land from the ditch irrigation legal ties.
Now farmers can take advantage of new technology such as using cell phones to operate pivots and to check fields. One benefit of the project is that farmers can use new technology that makes irrigation more efficient and help protect groundwater, such as using cell phones to operate pivots and to check fields; while returning canal water back to the river for future uses.
At its peak the canal served irrigation water to approximately 1,700 acres and multiple landowners. Land previously served by the canal will now be served by more efficient groundwater irrigation and the water is being purchased by CPNRD through the NRD’s Water Banking Program. Central Platte NRD started their Water Bank as a solution to balance water that is available with current water uses. There were two major programs that required the NRD to find a solution, including the Platte River Recovery Program (PRRIP) and Legislative Bill 962. The Six Mile irrigation canal had been in place and diverting Platte River water since 1894, withdrawing an average of 2,377 acre-feet of water annually.
The Six Mile Canal service area was ineligible to participate in the Water Bank because the surface water right could be transferred. With the closure of the Six Mile Canal, the associated State water right to divert natural flow from the Platte River will be relinquished, making the irrigated acres in the service area eligible for the CPNRD water banking program.
The Platte River Recovery Program is a federal agreement between Nebraska, Wyoming, Colorado and the Department of Interior; with the goal to protect endangered species.