The hotly debated Waters of the United States Rule recently adopted by the Environmental Protection Agency, but is being challenged in federal courts, is just one instance of the U.S. government in recent years taking control of ground water, attorney Stephen Mossman told a session of the annual Agriculture Bankers conference this week.
"The federal government has become the 800-pound gorilla in the area of water law," the Nebraska attorney said.
Mossman said when lending to farmers, bankers need to know about water rights and the new regulations that affect them.
In the past, court cases between states have been used to settle water use issues. But, Mossman said the Waters of the United States rule, the Endangered Species Act, and other federal regulations have changed the landscape on water use.
"Irrigation is premised on a system where you store water in years of excess and use it in times of demand," he told Farm Futures on the sidelines of the conference. "It appears to me, because of drought and federal environmental laws, the balance on which all these projects were built on is probably no longer working."
One way of adapting to these changes, Mossman said, is that farmers need to change. They need to adopt technology that limits water use without hurting crops.
"Like a lot of things, I think technology can really allow farmers to keep growing crops with less and less water," he said. "The days of turning your pivot on the first of July and having it on until the end of August are hopefully behind us."
He referenced a farmer in western Nebraska who using his cell phone to monitor water usage on his 10,000-acre farms to the point he knows exactly how much water his crops need.