- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 8, 2014

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - A bill designed to prepare Nebraska for floods, water shortages and water quality problems was sent Tuesday to a final vote in the Legislature.

Lawmakers gave second-round approval to legislation that would help local governments and the state pay for water projects. Budget bills that were approved this year are expected to generate $32 million for the new water sustainability fund by mid-2015.

The bill by Sen. Tom Carlson of Holdrege would also expand the Natural Resources Commission, from 16 members to 27, to ensure that more major water users are represented. The new commission would include groundwater and surface water irrigators, cities, public power districts and wildlife conservation groups.

Carlson, a Republican candidate for governor, pushed for the bill after leading a state water sustainability task force this summer. Carlson argued that, on average, the state needs to reach a point where it uses no more water than what it receives.

“We know that in agriculture, we feed the world, and we also have other responsibilities to make sure the people across the state have adequate water,” he said. “It’s so important. We need to accomplish it, and (the bill) will be a big step in that direction.”

The bill would require natural resources districts and the state to work to together on river-basin management plans. Sen. Steve Lathrop of Omaha said it’s designed to bring together groups that often disagree on water policy.

“That’s the whole point - that we get all of the stakeholders in a river basin in a room, working on a solution to get the basin in balance,” Lathrop said.

Because surface water and groundwater supplies are connected, groundwater irrigators and surface-water users are often at odds as the state tries to comply with the Republican River Compact.

The 1943 compact between Nebraska, Kansas and Colorado requires Nebraska to send some of its water downstream to Kansas. Nebraska and Kansas have battled over the river for years in a series of lawsuits.

Parts of the bill drew opposition. Sen. Beau McCoy of Omaha took issue with part of the bill that would recommend “priority status” for water projects caused by federal mandates. The measure is aimed at federally mandated Omaha sewer upgrades, which Omaha senators have tried to years to fund with state money.

The bill would set aside 10 percent of the state’s annual water funding for the sewer project. Gov. Dave Heineman has argued that Nebraska shouldn’t have to pay for the Omaha project.

Sen. Heath Mello of Omaha argued that the Omaha project is the largest water infrastructure project in Nebraska and is critical to the city and state’s economy.

“It’s a statewide problem,” Mello said. “It’s a statewide issue, similar to what we’ve heard with regard to the agriculture industry and maintaining its economic viability. (The need) crosses over … to water users in the greater metropolitan area that rely on water.”


The bill is LB1098

Copyright © 2023 The Washington Times, LLC.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide