Leading the Way in Water Conservation Efforts - By Governor Mike Johanns

By:  Mike Johanns
Date: Aug. 30, 2004
Location: Unknown

Dear Nebraska Neighbors:

Our great state has faced a very difficult struggle as we battle for a fifth year the worst drought our state has faced in recent memory. Less and less rainfall in western Nebraska has increased our reliance on irrigation and that has lead to rapidly declining reservoir levels and record low stream-flows. These water levels are impacted not only by reduced rainfall in our state, but by similar drought conditions further up stream in both Colorado and Wyoming.

I've worked hard to provide support and assistance to mitigate the effects of this drought by pursuing access to federal programs such as the Nonfat Dry Milk Feed Assistance and Livestock Compensation Programs, Conservation Reserve Program acres for additional grazing, and the Crop Disaster and Livestock Assistance Program for Nebraska's producers.

Last week I sent to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) a proposal to create a second Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) in Nebraska. This voluntary program would essentially pay producers in designated areas to take land out of production. It proposes to cease irrigation on a potential 100,000 acres and converts them to reserve acres for wildlife habitat, filter strips, conservation buffers, and even wetland habitat. This proposal includes areas along the North Platte, the Platte River and the Republican River in the western half of the state.

I want to stress that participation in this program would be up to individual producers and land owners within the CREP boundaries. I certainly believe it could make a tremendous amount of economic sense for some producers who have few options for maintaining profitable operations in the midst of such a severe drought.

I'm not alone in my support for this proposal. Many partners have worked very hard for many months to develop the Platte-Republican Resources Area CREP. I especially want to say thank you to Congressman Tom Osborne who has been a leader on this issue. His efforts paved the way for a pilot program to address increasing needs for water in the central and western part of the state.

Our state Natural Resource Districts and irrigation districts also took an active role in the planning. I am grateful for their input and look forward to their continued involvement. Additionally, I'd like to thank the Department of Natural Resources, Nebraska Department of Agriculture and the Game and Parks Commission for their work in assembling the proposal.

I would caution that this is not a slam dunk; there is no guarantee that the USDA will accept this proposal. If the USDA approves our request, producers will have to size up the benefits and make the best decision for their business. My goal is to work to secure access to drought relief programs so that our producers have several viable options to help them stay afloat until this current drought cycle has passed.

In addition to helping producers, CREP areas benefit tourism and local communities by increasing water quality, benefit wildlife, and help our state consume less of our most precious resource - water. This latest CREP proposal is just one more example of the many ways in which our "Nebraska United" is leading the way in managing this finite resource.

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