Construction has started on a project to restore groundwater levels southeast of Columbus, alleviating concerns for residents, producers and industry in the area.
The Lower Loup Natural Resource District (NRD) began to notice lower groundwater levels just southeast of Columbus between 2010 and 2014.
There were multiple causes, including the Lost Creek Bypass channel, a project done in the 1980s to alleviate flooding issues north of town by diverting water from Lost Creek. That worked then, but now needs adjusting because it reduced the amount of water making its way back into Lost Creek.
"Columbus has grown, so that changes the water budget. There's irrigation all around that area. The ADM plant is there using water. There are other industries down there using groundwater," Lower Loup NRD General Manager Russell Callan said. "So, over time the use of that groundwater has also increased to form that decline. It's a combination of those things."
Callan said the low groundwater levels are localized in Platte County just southeast of Columbus. Low groundwater is an issue in that area for several reasons.
"Christopher's Cove Lake is connected to the groundwater, so as the groundwater level drops, the lake level drops," Callan said. "...Because of the groundwater level dropping, it costs more for producers and the folks who have wells in that area to pump that water out of the ground because they have to lift it further."
The NRD could require everyone in the area to reduce their water usage, but that would be difficult with the amount of industry right there, especially the ADM facility, 3000 E. Eighth St.
"The other option was to come up with a project to allow everybody to keep doing what they're doing and move water around, basically," Callan said.
To that end, the Columbus Recharge Project will carry water from the Tailrace to the Lost Creek channel, allowing it to infiltrate back into the ground, "recharging" groundwater levels. The NRD is installing two pipelines as part of the project.
"Right along Eighth Street between the canal and Lost Creek channel, there will be a 14-inch pipeline to take water from the canal over to Lost Creek," Callan said. "And then there's a 6-inch pipeline that will go from a well by Lost Creek north to Christopher's Cove."
Construction on the pipelines started near the end of June and is slated to go until November.
Loup Power District is keeping an eye on the construction.
"As they're doing their installation, they're going to be going into our canal at some point so we're making sure we're ahead of the game and seeing what they're doing and when they're doing it," Loup Vice President of Engineering Korey Hobza said at a June 29 Loup Board of Directors meeting.
Hobza added that some trees near the canal will need to be removed eventually to make way for the construction.
"They've removed some trees but they still haven't removed the trees off the face of the canal yet where the pumping pit is going to go into the canal," Hobza said.
According to a page about the project on the Lower Loup NRD website, the flow of water can be turned on and off as needed, according to groundwater levels.
"The NRD has installed a series of shallow monitoring wells outfitted with real-time water level measuring devices," the website said. "...Similar equipment is being used to monitor the lake levels in Christopher’s Cove."
That will help prevent excess water from damaging properties in the area in the event of heavy precipitation or high groundwater levels, a concern of some property owners.
"We've had stakeholder meetings where we've had area landowners and stakeholders come visit and talk about the project. All of the easements are acquired, all that portion of it has been completed," Callan said.
The NRD's work on the project goes back to at least 2015 when it started a multi-year study on the water system in the area -- so, in some ways, the hardest parts are over, with only construction remaining.
Molly Hunter is a reporter for The Columbus Telegram. Reach her via email at email@example.com.