Nebraska lawmakers discuss path forward on Colorado canal
LINCOLN, Neb. (WOWT) - The Platte River offers some of the state’s most picturesque images. It comes down to water, a key to nature, and Nebraska’s No. 1 industry: agriculture.
Gov. Pete Ricketts worries Colorado will soon cut the snowmelt flowing into the state from the South Platte River.
“What’s the urgency? The front range of Colorado is projected to double in the next 30 years,” State Sen. Dan Hughes of Venango said. “That’s a lot more water they’ll need to support that population.”
Roughly 99 years ago, Nebraska and Colorado signed a compact, meaning farmers and ranchers would be allowed a certain amount of water during the growing season.
By all accounts, Colorado has held up that end of the deal.
But during the winter months, Nebraska argues Colorado is holding back, that Nebraska should have finished building a 24-mile long canal into Colorado to collect the extra water — something that’s written into the old compact.
“It’s time to send a message to Colorado: We’re serious about this,” said State Sen. Steve Erdman of Bayard. “I believe that when we set aside $53-million for a canal — that we’re not trying to bluff them.”
Some Omaha lawmakers questioned the price tag and whether there really was a sense of urgency to something that the state has ignored for nearly a century.
“These are questions we should be asking because we’re about to commit $50 million to this,” said State Sen. Steve Lathrop of Omaha. “Are we all in? Because if it costs $500 million to get from Ovid, Colo., to Perkins County — and that’s only a third of the way — it will cost $1.5 billion to get it built. And we don’t even have a dam built yet.”
State Sen. Justin Wayne of Omaha suggested Nebraska take Colorado to court first.
“We can figure out our legal rights before we commit money,” Wayne said. “The reason it’s important is that even if we build the canal and reservoir, we still have to get approval because of the endangered species around the Platte.”
Supporters of the canal say this isn’t about negotiating, simply going after what is rightly Nebraska’s to begin with.
Colorado has said Nebraska’s concern is misplaced.
“That’s what I’m disgusted about,” State Sen. John Stinner of Gering said. “$500 million is a lot to sock away on a long-term, complicated project.”
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