Drought prompts Nebraska to divert water from river it shares with Colorado

DENVER — With many Western states in extreme drought and vying for his or her share of a diminishing quantity of water, Nebraska is taking a brand new tact by attempting to divert water from a river it shares with Colorado.

The Nebraska Legislature this week accredited building of a $53 million canal in Colorado that might solidify its share of water from the South Platte River that flows via each states.

As local weather change makes the West hotter and drier, cities and states will intensify efforts to seek out and safe water, and Nebraska’s pre-emptive transfer could possibly be a precursor to how Western states react as competitors for the pure useful resource grows, consultants mentioned.

The Nebraska regulation provides the state authority to attract water from the Platte in a transfer state officers mentioned would safe its portion of the river’s water provide and assist shield communities, companies, agriculture and the surroundings throughout the state of two million folks.

Both states have the proper to attract from the river below a 1923 compact. Nebraska officers mentioned they determined to train their proper to construct the canal to bypass any huge water initiatives Colorado might have deliberate for the river.

“Colorado was going to start doing some water projects that would take up a bunch of water that Nebraska would have otherwise been entitled to,” mentioned Denny Vaggalis, authorized counsel for Nebraska state Sen. Mike Hilgers, a Republican who launched the laws.

“We’re going to move forward to construct the canal to make sure we’re going to get that water.”

The proposed canal is just not anticipated to drastically scale back Colorado’s aquatic assets as a result of the water that might be diverted flows in an easterly route, water consultants mentioned. (Nebraska is northeast of Colorado.)

Colorado additionally receives water from the Colorado River, which provides water to 6 different states and is listed as probably the most endangered within the nation, in accordance with a new research by American Rivers, an environmental advocacy group.

But the state’s inhabitants is rising, and so is consumption. Colorado had 5.8 million residents final 12 months, 800,000 greater than in 2010, in accordance with the U.S. census.

The South Platte River
The South Platte River in Denver on Mar. 3, 2021.Hyoung Chang / MediaNews Group/The Denver Post through Getty Images file

Over the final twenty years, the West has been the driest in 1,200 years, in accordance with a February report by the journal Nature Climate Change.

Water ranges at the nation’s largest reservoir, Lake Mead on the Colorado River alongside the Arizona-Nevada border, have hit their lowest ever, in accordance with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

“We don’t have a lot of water to give right now while we’re in this drought cycle,” mentioned Peter Bennett Goble, a climatologist at Colorado State University.

Nebraska’s state Legislature handed the canal regulation in a 42-4 vote, and it was signed by Gov. Pete Ricketts, a Republican, on Monday.

“Nebraska is kind of in a reactionary mode,” mentioned Anthony Schutz, an affiliate regulation professor and water professional at University of Nebraska-Lincoln. “I don’t know if the state would have done it had it not seen Colorado really investing in its water resources and in the South Platte basin.”

He estimated the canal undertaking would finally value $750 million to $1 billion.

“It’s like building a highway,” he mentioned.

Kevin Rein, Colorado state engineer and director of the division of water assets, mentioned that he was unsure what water initiatives Nebraska officers have been referring to, however that it may stem from a gaggle of unfunded water initiatives developed in 2015.

He mentioned Colorado wouldn’t stand in the best way of building.

“We’re not going to obstruct Nebraska from taking water they’re legally entitled to,” Rein mentioned, including that Colorado has at all times complied with the settlement and has an excellent rapport with Nebraska. “It’s not my objective to try and stop it.”

But the Colorado governor’s workplace mentioned it’s not thrilled with Nebraska’s plans.

“This is still a canal to nowhere, a political stunt, and a waste of taxpayers dollars,” Conor Cahill, spokesman for Gov. Jared Polis, a Democrat, mentioned in an announcement. “This misguided decision continues to threaten the private land of hardworking farmers and ranchers without being able to get any more water for Nebraska or Colorado. Total waste.”

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