Nebraska District Runs Pilot Water Exchange

The Central Platte Natural Resources District (“CPNRD”) has implemented two pilots under the Groundwater Exchange Program. The program used an electronic exchange to bring willing buyers and willing sellers together to execute temporary transfers of water.

Under the most recent pilot, transfers were executed for the 2017 growing season. During a preapproval period that ran through October and most of November 2016, growers met with district staff to register to participate and indicate whether they plan to buy or sell. Buyers were asked to specify the maximum price they were willing to pay. Sellers were asked to specify the minimum price they were willing to accept. A bid window was open for the first nine days of December. The results were processed the following week, and the transfers were approved by the CPNRD board of directors on December 22, 2016.

The electronic exchange platform was set up to consider the bid information and the complex rules of the district. In 2004, the legislature put CPNRD under a moratorium—meaning because the Platte River is determined to be fully-appropriated or over-appropriated, no new depletions are allowed. As a result, certified irrigated acres were assigned a percent of the depletion. Modeling determined the appropriate percent for each area. These percentages represent how water is appropriated to the growers.

Since acres have differing water yields per acre, the price per acre can vary significantly. A total of 25 sellers and five buyers submitted bids. About half of sellers were matched with buyers. Participants remain anonymous. Prices, which were reported in $ per acre, ranged from $8.14/acre to $121.07/acre, depending on where in the district the transfer occurred. Transfers along the Platte River west of Elm Creek ranged from $8.14/acre to $94.21/acre. Transfers east of Elm Creek ranged from $30.12/acre to $99.88/acre, and transfers in the Loup Basin influence area ranged from $48.84/acre to $121.07/acre.

Additional rules that apply to all transfers also applied to the exchange program. No additional acres can be irrigated in an over-appropriated area. Water cannot be moved west more than one mile, and water cannot be transferred into a groundwater management area that is declining.

The first pilot was implemented to transfer water for the 2016 growing season. It yielded 30 sellers and six buyers— of which three buyers were acquiring water to increase streamflows.

The district did not guarantee that the program would continue and has not announced a transfer program for the 2018 growing season. The exchange, however, did offer them a new management tool as they had never executed temporary transfers prior to the first pilot.


Written by Marta L. Weismann