Climate scientists in Nebraska and Colorado are training Native American water managers how to collect and understand local climate data and make better predictions about their water supply.

While surface water development led the early history of irrigation in Nebraska, it became common for farmers to tap the wealth of water below ground beginning in the 1930s.

From the time of the first agricultural societies, farmers have experimented with various ways to get enough water to their crops.

Water loss through porous canals and ditches has always been an issue for irrigators, so districts and farmers alike have lined or sealed the waterways to reduce loss. “We can’t afford to lose a whole lot of water out of the canal,” Busch said, but “sealing a canal is a catch-22 because that water that comes out of them canals does replenish our groundwater system.”

In the early 1900s in the arid West, C. W. McConaughy recognized the discontinuity between high river flows in the spring and low flows in the middle of summer, when farmers needed water most. McConaughy, a grain merchant and mayor of Holdrege, Nebraska, developed the idea of supplemental irrigation.