URNRD launching irrigation retirement program

$10 million program will target nearly 9,000 coming out of CREP

In 2020, nearly 9,000 acres in the Upper Republican Natural Resources district will come out of retirement. 

Landowners enrolled these acres in the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP), which retired the ground from farming and irrigation for 15 years. 

As that ground comes out of CREP, the URNRD wants to entice those landowners to permanently retire irrigation on those acres. 

The URNRD has a total of $10 million—$6 million in state grant funds, matched by another $4 million in reserves—to essentially purchase the landowner’s right to irrigate those acres. 

The landowner will retain ownership of the land and will be able to farm it on a dryland basis if they choose to do so.

Bid process 

NRD Assistant Manager Nate Jenkins said all owners of affected CREP land will be notified of the new program in the next 10 days.

He said the district will use a bid process where landowners will offer a bid to the NRD for the amount they feel they need to receive for permanently retiring irrigation on these acres. 

At the conclusion of the bid period, estimated to be 30-60 days, Jenkins said they will review and score all bids. 

The streamflow depletion factor on the respective land, along with average historic use prior to CREP enrollment, or the past five years on actively irrigated land, will be considered as part of the process to determine which bids to accept. 

Jenkins said the goal is to retire as many irrigated acres as possible with the money available. 

Proximity of CREP land

Jenkins said much of the targeted CREP-enrolled land rests within an area formerly known as the quick response area. That area, defined by the Department of Natural Resources, included land within two to 2.5 miles of any stream or river in the district. 

Those idled CREP acres allowed the district to reduce overall consumptive use of water. In addition, since the land was located near streams and rivers, it helped reduce the amount of streamflow depletion caused by irrigation pumping. 

Management of consumptive use and streamflow depletions are key responsibilities of the district and state as part of compact compliance and settlements with Kansas. 

Jenkins said if pumping resumed on the acres coming out of retirement, the district would be required to offset that additional pumping to lessen depletions.

Outside of stream augmentation, the only methods for controlling consumptive use and depletions include retiring irrigated acres, lowering allocations on land near streams or rivers, or lowering the allocation for all irrigators in the district. 

Over the years, the district board has chosen to use a uniform allocation for all irrigators.

The URNRD does have stream augmentation projects in Dundy and Lincoln Counties to help offset overpumping that may occur. 

Jenkins noted land does not have to rest within the quick response boundaries, nor be presently idled, to be eligible for retirement.

If all funds are not expended in the initial process, Jenkins said the area for retirement could be expanded. These additional areas will be added based on the amount of streamflow depletion each parcel is responsible for. 

No CREP land in Perkins Co.

Jenkins noted there are no Perkins County land enrolled in CREP. In addition, the streamflow depletion numbers are quite low since there or no streams or rivers in the county. 

As a result, he doubted little if any irrigated land in Perkins County will be eligible for retirement. 

However, that doesn’t mean irrigators in Perkins County won’t benefit from the program, he said. 

Retiring the district’s idled CREP acres, along with other eligible parcels, will help control overall consumptive use in the district. This has been key to maintaining allocation levels throughout the district, he said. 

The Grant Tribune-Sentinel

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