Governor Ricketts issues plan to build a canal from CO to NE

Compact signed in 1923 being used to build and enforce the building of this project

LINCOLN, Neb. (KLKN/AP) – During a press briefing Monday afternoon, Gov. Pete Ricketts announced a $500 million plan to divert water out of Colorado and bring it into Nebraska via a canal.  A nearly century-old compact between the state of Nebraska and Colorado allows Nebraska to seize land and water in Colorado along the South Platte River and build canals.

This means Nebraska can essentially walk into Colorado and either buy or use eminent domain to take land away from people living there to build these canals.  This move would likely trigger lawsuits between the states, but the Governor and the Attorney General believe they are well within their rights of the compact to do this.

This all comes as Colorado has numerous plans which would reduce water flows into Nebraska by as much as 90% in the long-term.  It would potentially take a major toll on Nebraska’s agriculture and power industries; it even would likely affect water supplies in Lincoln and Omaha.

“We are very concerned about what is going to happen with these projects,” Ricketts, said at a news conference. The reduced streamflows “are going to have a dramatic impact on our ability to feed the world.”

The compact, approved in 1923, is a water-sharing agreement between the states that entitles Nebraska to 120 cubic feet per second (897.6 gallons) from the river during the irrigation season between April 1 and Oct. 15, and 500 cubic feet per second (3,740 gallons) during the non-irrigation season.

Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson, a Republican, said Colorado has been issuing water usage permits that would cut into Nebraska’s rightful share.

“It’s critical that we be able to maintain these flows,” Peterson said.

Colorado released a report this month that identified 282 new projects within the South Platte River Basin on their side of the border, at a total cost of $9.87 billion.

According to the report, the Colorado population living within the river basin is expected to grow 42% to 70% between 2015 and 2050, creating more demand for water. The report also warned that climate change may reduce streamflows and shift snowmelt patterns to earlier in the year, while creating greater agricultural demand for water.

A spokesman for Democratic Colorado Gov. Jared Polis said the governor was reviewing the matter.

“The governor just learned of this situation this morning and we are working to understand it more thoroughly at this time including a legal and operational analysis,” said press secretary Conor Cahill. “Gov. Polis continues to oppose the diversion of precious water resources from Colorado.”

Kevin Rein, Colorado’s state engineer and the director of the state’s water resources division, said officials will work with Nebraska to fully understand the proposal and ensure that Colorado’s interests are protected while respecting Nebraska’s rights under the agreement.

“Colorado has a long history of maintaining compliance with the South Platte River Compact and Nebraska and Colorado have always worked cooperatively on the administration of the compact,” Rein said in a statement.

The South Platte River flows northeast from Colorado’s fast-growing Front Range and into Nebraska, where it merges with the North Platte River to form the Platte River before crossing the rest of the state.

Ricketts declined to disclose where Nebraska would get the money to pay for the project, saying he’ll release more details in his annual State of the State address to lawmakers on Thursday. He said Nebraska started work on a canal before World War I, but abandoned the project, part of which is still visible from Interstate 76 near Julesburg, Colorado.

Peterson said the canal would feed into a reservoir that would store water for Nebraska’s use. He said Nebraska officials grew increasingly concerned about Colorado’s ability to deliver water as it deals with its own shortages.

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