Let's Keep Common Sense Approach to Water Management in Nebraska

Let's Keep Common Sense Approach to Water Management in Nebraska


By John Winkler, Papio Missouri NRD General Manager

Nebraska water management is considered a model for the rest of the country, in large part because of the cooperation that exists among stakeholders from across the state who represent very diverse interests. This cooperation between local entities, Natural Resource Districts (NRDs) and the State is more than just a feel-good dynamic - it is imbedded not only in various portions of state statutes but our very culture and has positioned the state to manage its water in a progressive and reasonable manner.

This cooperative and holistic approach to water management has helped ensure that complaints from a small group of water users don't trigger drastic and knee-jerk reactions that severely and unnecessarily impact people and economies across the state.

This same cooperative approach was taken this past year as stakeholders from across Nebraska worked together to create a comprehensive water funding plan. Sen. Tom Carlson of Holdrege and other key senators are now leading this comprehensive effort to help fund needed water projects from Scottsbluff to Omaha which protect our most valuable resources and infrastructure.

However, I am concerned this cooperative approach, and the water funding proposal, could be at risk this year. A special interest group that has worked against the interests of the State of Nebraska and has previously sided with the State of Kansas in a lawsuit against Nebraska regarding the Republican River Compact, appears to be jeopardizing the hard work of the water funding task force and the cooperative Nebraska model of governance.

For example, proposed legislation in the Nebraska Legislature appears to give to Kansas what they could not win in the US Supreme Court in the Kansas v. Nebraska Republican River lawsuit. Kansas had requested that Nebraska shut down at least 300,000 irrigated acres in Nebraska. The special master ruled against Kansas on that request, stating that Nebraska's compliance efforts are sufficient to meet the terms of the compact. However, this proposed legislation sets the stage for shutting down irrigation throughout the state.

Every unit of government, including NRD's, has its own important issues and projects that must be addressed. It is quite easy to enter into a political free-for-all with each entity jockeying for a position of influence to get their own exclusive piece of the pie to fund their special project and constituency at the expense of other interests of the State.

This is not the Nebraska way of doing business. Cooperation and coordination must prevail in order for the State as a whole to become stronger, more prosperous and position itself for the challenges of the 21st century. It has been said before that water management and availability is the preeminent issue of our time. We either position our prosperity in a sustainable manner or we degenerate into political squabbling and back biting because someone didn't get their way. The State of Nebraska is on the verge of a precipice; we either position ourselves to manage our water resources far into the future and to ensure a thriving economy which not only feeds the world but protects its citizens or we squander the opportunity and open the door for other states, the courts or the federal government to manage it for us.