Supreme Court Decision Benefits Nebraska Water Users, Taxpayers

Supreme Court Decision Benefits Nebraska Water Users, Taxpayers


The hard work of the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources, Attorney General's Office and Natural Resources Districts in the Republican Basin has resulted in a favorable decision by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday in favor of a water-accounting change that could be worth approximately $20 million annually to Nebraska and significantly reduce the amount of water that must be provided to Kansas in years when action is needed to maintain compliance with the Republican River Compact.

"The accounting counter-claim granted to Nebraska by the court dwarfs the $5.5 million awarded to Kansas in terms of significance," said Jasper Fanning, manager of the Upper Republican NRD in Imperial. "The $5.5 million was a one-time penalty. The accounting change is an ongoing benefit worth about three times that to Nebraska on an annual basis."

Kansas had originally sought about $70 million in damages and a permanent irrigation shutdown on about 300,000 acres.

"The credit goes to Acting Department of Natural Resources Director Jim Schneider and former Director Brian Dunnigan," Fanning said. "The changes the Department made under their leadership and the work they did with the Attorney General's Office are the reason Nebraska was so successful in litigation and continues to move forward working with Kansas and Colorado to avoid litigation and improve outcomes for water users in all states in the future."

The accounting change approved by the high court will ensure that Nebraska is no longer charged for consumption of so-called imported groundwater that seeps into the Republican River Basin from the Platte River Basin. Because Nebraska has been wrongly charged with consuming that water in the Republican Basin as if the water originated in the Republican Basin, the NRDs and State of Nebraska have had to supply Kansas with more water than otherwise would have been necessary. The amount of imported water Nebraska will no longer be charged with consuming is significant - it will vary year to year but could be in the range of 10,000 acre feet annually.

That is equal to about 25% of Nebraska's alleged overuse in 2005 and 2006, the years for which Nebraska was sued by Kansas. Had the accounting change been in place in 2013, for example, Nebraska would have had to have taken little or no action to stay in compliance and in 2014 it would have reduced the amount of water pumped under the NRD augmentation projects substantially.

For more information, contact Nate Jenkins at 308-883-1535