Supreme Court Ruling to Benefit Nebraska Irrigators

Supreme Court Ruling to Benefit Nebraska Irrigators


The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday in favor of a Republican River basin 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 hard work of the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources (DNR), 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 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 as much as 10,000 acre feet annually.

That is equal to about 25 percent 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.

Locally, 40 percent of Tri-Basin Natural Resources District (NRD) lies in the Republican River Basin, with approximately 190,000 irrigated acres in that portion of the district. The ruling will greatly aid Tri-Basin NRD in maintaining compliance with a joint Integrated Management Plan (IMP) with DNR to offset depletions to the Republican River. Tri-Basin's planned streamflow augmentation projects, along with diversions of high flows from the Platte River into Elwood Reservoir to recharge groundwater supplies, should adequately meet the requirements of the IMP in most years.

"This is a win for Nebraska's farmers and ranchers," said Acting DNR Director Jim Schneider. "By lessening Nebraska's compliance burden, this ruling will in effect lessen Nebraska's need to regulate for compliance. Nebraska's water users should be very pleased."

Today's ruling upholds the Special Master's ruling from November 2013. The dispute centers on a 1943 compact allocating 49 percent of the river's water to Nebraska, 40 percent to Kansas and 11 percent to Colorado.

"Today is a good day for Nebraska," said Governor Pete Ricketts. "I am pleased to see that the court has made a reasonable decision. I look forward to working with the governors of Kansas and Colorado to move forward."


February 25, 2015

For Immediate Release

For more information, contact: John Thorburn, General Manager
Phone 308-995-6688 or email jthorburn [at]