Proposed Nebraska budget includes $575 million Colorado canal, but concerns remain

LINCOLN, Neb. (KLKN) — The construction of a canal along the Nebraska-Colorado border would be funded by the proposed state budget.

The Perkins County Canal would divert water from the South Platte River in Colorado to farmland across the border in Nebraska. 

The project would cost around $575 million to be built.  

Senators supporting the canal say it is needed to fight drought. 

“Our western counties are dry,” Sen. Kathleen Kauth said. “We need that water for our ag lands, for our down streams.” 

Then-Gov. Pete Ricketts started the multimillion-dollar effort in 2022.

SEE ALSO: Ricketts signs bill that starts work on $500 million canal from Colorado

This project is based on an agreement made by Nebraska and Colorado 100 years ago, known as the 1923 South Platte River Compact. 

That gave Nebraska the right to divert a certain amount of water during the non-irrigation season.

The state looked into building the canal decades ago, but the effort was abandoned due to a lack of funds. 

“When they started to try to do it, the project was going to cost $80,000 and they couldn’t get the support to do it,” Kauth said. “We need that water. If we keep waiting, it’s going to get more and more expensive.” 

Last year, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis called the plan “a canal to nowhere.” 

Some are concerned about the legal complexity of the project. 

“When we come in with a 100-year-old right, the question of the scope of that right is just is a lot different than it was 100 years ago,” UNL law professor Anthony Schutz said.  

Another concern is how much water we will receive from the canal and if it’s worth it. 

He said that’s something the state needs to calculate.

“You value that water, you value its uses, you try to project out into the future what exactly the return would be on a very significant investment,” Schutz said.

The budget advanced this week to the final round of debate at the Legislature.

Categories: Capitol News, Nebraska News, News, Top Stories