Two water conservation districts in the region are considering softening rules put in place to control agricultural water use under the 50-year regional water plan.

The North Plains Groundwater Conservation District has scheduled a public hearing at 9 a.m. Feb. 14 to discuss replacing its rule covering how long a farmer can carry over any unused portion of his or her water allotment. The current rule allows the water user to hold an unused allotment for one year before losing it. The proposed change would stretch that to three years.

The district’s board of directors will meet immediately after the hearing to take any action on the proposal.

Both events will be at district headquarters, 603 E. First St. in Dumas.

The district’s rules are available at www.northplainsgcd

The High Plains Underground Water Conservation District No. 1 will meet a week later to discuss and receive public comment on a proposal to not enforce water usage restrictions until 2014. At that time, civil penalties would begin and gradually increase.

“A fine of $15 per acre-foot in excess of the (production allowance) is proposed for calendar year 2014 and 2015. It increases to $25 per acre-foot in 2016,” said Jim Conkwright, the district’s general manager. “The proposed policy will establish civil penalties that are substantially lower than the maximum amount authorized by state law.”

The High Plains meeting will be at 10 a.m. Feb. 21 in the A. Wayne Wyatt Board Room of the High Plains Water District office, 2930 Avenue Q, in Lubbock.

Following adoption of the first regional water plan in 2001, all the districts in the Panhandle, as members of the Groundwater Management Area, had to develop a goal of how much water they wanted to save in the Ogallala Aquifer in 50 years. Regional water plans map out how to conserve water supplies in all sectors from municipal systems to agriculture, meet future water supply needs and respond to future droughts in the planning areas.

Irrigation accounts for 88 percent of water use in the region.

Most of the area is covered by a goal to conserve 50 percent of water now in the aquifer during the next 50 years. Based on the goals, less restrictive in the northwest area of the Panhandle, the highest water-use area of region, where corn farmers, dairies and other water users can leave 40 percent of current supplies in the Ogallala, districts wrote rules such as those being reconsidered to meet their goals.

The district is holding steady on its rules.

“The thing that made ours different is we took a little more time, and it took longer than we thought,” said C.E. Williams, general mananger of the Panhandle Groundwater Conservation District.

The district’s hand was forced early by the 600-pound gorillas in the room, T. Boone Pickens’ Mesa Water and the Canadian River Municipal Water Authority. Both held far more water rights than any irrigator and wanted to develop them, moving the district to begin acting a decade ago rather than a few years ago.

“We’d think (the rules) were ready at staff level and Boone’s attorney or CRMWA’s attorney would find something they wanted changed,” Williams said

The district uses a five-year rolling average of production to calculate compliance, a mechanism that allows some flexibility similar to the North Plains carryover allowance. As far as fines, the district has the ability to impose them for over production, but hasn’t done that.

“We try everything in the world instead of that step,” Williams said.