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UNL to host water, natural resources tour


The University of Nebraska-Lincoln's annual water and natural resources tour will focus on ground and surface water issues in north central Nebraska over three days in mid-July.

The tour leaves Kearney July 12 and returns there July 14. A variety of stops and points of interest in the Niobrara and Loup River basins will be featured, with overnight stops in Ainsworth and Valentine.

Participants will see projects and activities supported by three Irrigation Districts and two Natural Resources Districts, said tour co-organizer and host Michael Jess.

The tour will include visits to the Niobrara Valley Preserve, UNL's Barta Brothers Ranch, Merritt Reservoir, Niobrara National Scenic River and Snake River Falls, he added. There also will be an opportunity to canoe the Niobrara River.

Issues key to the tour focus on the use and controversies surrounding surface water and groundwater resources in the region. The area sits atop the Ogallala (or High Plains) Aquifer, which is one of the largest aquifers in the world, covering about 174,000 square miles in parts of eight states, and is relied upon heavily for irrigated agriculture, drinking water and other uses.

It is key to many conservation, recreation and agriculture issues in central and north-central Nebraska.

The tour departs Kearney's Ramada Inn July 12 and makes morning stops at Davis Creek Lake in the Twin Loups Irrigation District and Lower Loups Natural Resources District, then to NRD offices in Ord for discussions of water and natural resources management in the lower Loup River watershed.

Afternoon discussions will focus on rebuilding infrastructure and irrigation canal diversion works following extensive flooding on the Loup Rivers in June 2010.

The tour then heads to UNL's Barta Brothers Ranch research and extension facility near Rose and then on to Sandhill Implement Co. in Bassett before overnighting in Ainsworth.

July 13 the tour explores the Niobrara Valley Preserve near Johnstown and Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge near Valentine. Discussions there will be about the challenges of managing the scenic Niobrara River. In the afternoon, tour attendees can opt to raft the Niobrara River before a western cookout at the Diamond Lazy J Ranch near Nenzel, where vineyard and ranch tours will also be available.

Overnight is at Valentine's Niobrara Lodge.

On July 14, discussions shift to current plans by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission to purchase historic and scenic Snake River Falls from its current owners and then a look at nearby Merritt Reservoir before traveling to Broken Bow for lunch and a tour of Sargent Irrigation Co.'s manufacturing plant there. The tour then returns to Kearney.

Space is limited and registrations are on a first-come, first-served basis. Cost is $500 per person single occupancy or $400 per person double occupancy. Registration includes all meals, motel, transportation and activities. To register, or obtain a registration brochure, contact Jennie Nollette at the Kearney Area Chamber of Commerce at 308-237-3168 or email jnollette@kearneycoc.org. More information is online at watercenter.unl.edu.

Tour cosponsors are Central Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation District, Kearney Area Chamber of Commerce, Nebraska Public Power District, UNL Water Center and School of Natural Resources, Northern Plains Supply Inc., Perfect Valley Irrigation Inc., Sandhill Implement Inc. and the Lower Loup Natural Resources District.

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