Nebraska Water Groups Endorse Proposed $500M Colorado Canal

By GRANT SCHULTE, Related Press

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Nebraska water regulators rallied Wednesday behind a proposal to construct a $500 million canal in neighboring Colorado to divert water out of the South Platte River, a mission steeped in fears that the fast-growing Denver space will devour a lot of the river’s water.

Leaders from Nebraska’s irrigation and pure assets districts solid the plan as an important step to protect as a lot of the state’s water provide as doable. Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts recognized it as a prime precedence, arguing that not shifting ahead would ultimately value Nebraska billions as farms, cities and different water customers wrestle with shortages.

“In my view, it is a discount,” Ricketts mentioned in testimony earlier than the Legislature’s Pure Sources Committee.

Ricketts introduced a plan final month to invoke Nebraska’s proper to construct a canal in Colorado underneath the South Platte River Compact, a 99-year-old water-sharing settlement between the states. Constructing the canal would let Nebraska draw water out of the river in late fall, winter and early spring and retailer it to be used in drier occasions.

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Some Nebraska water regulators mentioned they’re satisfied that Colorado intends to scale up its water utilization to fulfill the wants of a Denver-area inhabitants that is anticipated to greater than double by 2050.

Colorado officers have mentioned they do not absolutely perceive Nebraska’s issues and objectives, noting that they’ve all the time complied with the compact’s necessities. Final week, a northeast Colorado lawmaker launched a invoice that might require regulators to prioritize South Platte River water storage initiatives.

“That is the fitting time, and Nebraska can not wait any longer,” mentioned Kent Miller, govt director of the Twin Platte Pure Sources District in North Platte, Nebraska.

Tom Riley, director of the Nebraska Division of Pure Sources, mentioned cutbacks on the river would power water regulators to launch extra water from Lake McConaughy, a significant reservoir of the North Platte River, which converges with the South Platte River to type the Platte River.

Riley mentioned the diminished flows would additionally have an effect on energy era within the state, power farmers to retire productive farmland and harm municipal water provides throughout the river basin. Nebraska additionally depends on the river at a few of its public energy stations, together with a coal-powered facility that makes use of water for cooling.

“In my 35 years as a water assets engineer, I’ve by no means seen a extra vital water mission for Nebraska,” Riley mentioned, calling the state of affairs “a disaster that we will forestall.”

Elizabeth Elliott, director of Lincoln’s Transportation and Utilities company, mentioned Lincoln depends on the Platte River to complement the water it attracts from wells. She mentioned water from the South Platte River gives about 7% of town’s water.

Elliott pointed to the 2012 drought that triggered a wave of residential water restrictions, wherein police issued citations to householders who have been caught watering their lawns.

John Winkler, common supervisor of the Omaha-based Papio-Missouri River Pure Sources District, mentioned lowering the river flows would lower into the water provide in his space, which is a component the Platte River basin. Winkler mentioned development prices will rise shortly with inflation the longer the state waits to approve the mission.

“We must be progressive and look not simply at what’s occurring at present, however what’s occurring 50 or 100 years sooner or later,” he mentioned.

Some Nebraska lawmakers questioned the mission’s value and requested why Nebraska does not first attempt to negotiate a brand new compact with Colorado. Below the compact, Nebraska should construct the canal to assert 500 cubic ft per second from the river’s decrease part that runs by means of northeast Colorado, and so they can solely achieve this in the course of the non-irrigation season.

“It simply appears simpler to barter one other compact,” mentioned state Sen. Justin Wayne, of Omaha.

Speaker of the Legislature Mike Hilgers, who launched the invoice on the governor’s behalf, mentioned forging forward with the canal might assist Nebraska “put the strongest foot ahead” in any negotiations. However he mentioned the canal proposal wasn’t meant as a bargaining chip and argued the state ought to maneuver ahead with the mission.

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