|Harshest possible penalties handed down for NRD meter violations|
|Written by Russ Pankonin, The Imperial Republican|
Landowners who were actively bypassing irrigation water flow meters will suffer the harshest penalty possible—permanent retirement of irrigation on the affected land.
In a special meeting Tuesday, June 22, members of the Upper Republican Natural Resources District board handed out the sanctions after more than five hours of discussion and deliberation.
The board permanently retired irrigation on 1,476.4 acres and retired another 779.4 acres for 10 years, along with the loss of all carryforward. The board levied sanctions against a total of 3,971.85 acres.
Bruce Kramer of Wauneta lost 432.1 acres, which was located south of Wauneta.
Jack Bond of Greeley, Colo., lost irrigation rights forever on 818.3 acres, along with a 10-year retirement and loss of any carryforward on another 533.4 acres. These acres were also located south of Wauneta.
Randall Bond of Greeley, Colo., lost all irrigation rights on 226 acres plus a 10-year retirement and loss of carryforward on another 246 acres. This ground was located in southwest Perkins County.
Six of the affected quarters of ground are presently rented to other operators. Randy Acton of Wauneta farms four of the quarters while Keenan Kitt of Wauneta farms the other two.
Each of the renters had already planted crops when the investigation of rule violations came to a head.
Acton and Kitt received Cease & Desist orders from the URNRD as well, putting the future of their newly-planted crops in jeopardy.
Board members noted Acton and Kitt had rented the ground in good faith and were not aware of the bypass mechanisms.
The board voted to allow Acton and Kitt to complete the cropping season, irrigating as normal. On Jan. 1, 2011 this ground will lose all irrigation rights.
One land owner, Harry Stromberger of Windsor, Colo., had purchased eight quarters in Perkins County from Bond and one active bypass was found on one well watering 181.3 acres.
In its investigation, the NRD determined Stromberger had no knowledge of the active bypass.
As a result, they passed the penalty of permanent retirement on to Bond on another tract. This 181.3 acres was included in the 818.3 acres of irrigation rights lost by Bond.
The NRD also stripped the carryforward from the 181.3 acres.
Other landowners who purchased land from Bond or Kramer in good faith were not sanctioned.
With the exception of the six quarters rented by Acton and Kitt, Kramer rents the rest of the acres involved.
Meter bypass violation
Jasper Fanning, manager of the URNRD, said the primary violation involved the bypass of water around flow meters.
A farmer who recently sold ground originally purchased from Kramer discovered a bypass mechanism while doing some maintenance prior to the closing.
He notified the NRD, which spurred the investigation of possible meter violations.
The wells in question had a surge pressure tank attached to the outlet pipe from the well.
A visible outlet pipe that fed the pivot was attached to the side of the surge tank.
Under the bottom of the surge tank, there was a hidden underground pipe leading from the surge tank.
This hidden pipe was then connected to the underground pipe going to the pivot, allowing water to bypass the meter.
Fanning said this was a deceptive action to give the appearance of a common surge tank used on many irrigation wells.
Fanning said they found other meter violations, such as incorrect placement or incorrect calibration.
The investigation also yielded the discovery of some illegal, unregistered wells and wells hooked together in violation of the rules.
He noted Kramer and Jack Bond were cooperative in the investigation process.
All eyes on NRD
NRD board members knew the amount of scrutiny they were under, not only from local farmers but the states of Nebraska and Kansas.
“In these times, with all the interstate water issues and with the stringent allocations imposed on all irrigators, deliberate acts such as these shall have no tolerance,” Fanning said.
Fanning said the permanent retirement of irrigated acres is the harshest penalty available to the board. They had the option to reduce or remove certified irrigated acres, allocation and/or carryforward.
Civil fines or penalties were not an option.
Fanning estimated the loss of certified acres, either permanently or for 10 years, along with loss of carryforward, would represent a loss of value at more than $3 million.
The board met in special session June 16 to begin their deliberations on possible sanctions.
At that meeting, they adjourned after tabling an amended motion that limited retirement to five years instead of permanently.
When the board reconvened June 22, the amendment and motion were withdrawn, clearing the slate for new deliberations.
Prior to the June 22 meeting, a committee meeting was held to make recommendations to the board on possible sanctions to consider.
Ultimately, the board adopted the recommendations with some minor changes.
According to the Chase County assessor’s office, ground that began the year assessed as irrigated ground will continue to be irrigated ground.
On Jan. 1, 2011, any ground that has been decertified will be considered dryland for future assessment.
The Wauneta-Palisade school district stands to take the biggest hit in valuation, since much of the property was located south of Wauneta in either Chase or Dundy counties.