The drought is taking its toll all over the country, but Nebraskans are trying to figure out how to battle the extreme drought together.

Using the laws currently in the state’s books, however, it is becoming impossible.

In Sidney, two of nine municipal wells are expected to go dry in the next week, and others could become useless if water levels drop lower, leaving inadequate supplies for 6,200 residents to fight fires, drink, cook or even bathe.

"All the irrigation wells west of us are running dry, one by one, like a domino effect, and it is coming closer to us each day," City Manager Gary Person told the Associated Press. "They are now running dry within a mile of town."

The situation is forcing farmers and city-dwellers to compete over every drop of groundwater, and some wonder who will win — and whether the state or courts will help decide.

With groundwater use in Nebraska mostly unregulated by the state and controlled exclusively by local natural resources districts, courts could be the only recourse for cities and domestic well owners, said Ann Bleed, deputy director of Department of Natural Resources.

"We've heard concerns from domestic well owners whose wells have gone dry. They have asked, 'What can be done?'" she said. "If a domestic well owner sues an irrigation well owner, they very well could win."

Sidney's city manager doesn't think it should come to that, and he wants the state to step in and ensure that communities have enough water.

"Nebraska has to get dead serious about its water laws," Person said. "You can't blame the farmers for using the water. That's their livelihood."

"But if this drought continues, we're dead," he said.

The state has helped set up meetings between towns and resource districts to work out differences over water use, said Jack Daniel, who monitors public water supplies for the state.

A task force, including irrigators and city leaders, was created by the Legislature this year to study the state's water laws and to try to resolve water conflicts.

"Most producers are trying to conserve as best as they can. It's a very stressful situation because they are trying to get their crops to grow even though this drought has been so intense," said Rod Horn, general manager for the South Platte Natural Resources District in Sidney.

Some of the state's 23 natural resource districts have asked irrigators to conserve water, and a few have implemented moratoriums on new wells. Meanwhile, scores of communities are restricting water use, and more than 20 are rationing water.

"We're sucking pond water, it's that bad," said Mike Daharsh, an extension educator for Deuel and Garden counties.

Associated Press