Gov. Pete Ricketts and other state leaders announced Monday their intention to protect Nebraska’s share of the South Platte River water by building a major canal in parts of Colorado and southwest Nebraska.

Ricketts said Nebraska intends to take action to protect its entitlements of S. Platte River water, authorized under the South Platte River Compact with Nebraska, Colorado and Kansas. He said the canal will support multiple uses including irrigation, power production, and municipal water supplies.  

Ricketts highlighted the emerging need to protect Nebraska’s South Platte River water, which is threatened by nearly 300 planned projects and more than $10 billion of expenditures in Colorado to ensure no “excess” water leaves its state. This threatens to choke off 90% of the flow of water into Nebraska, he said.

Ricketts said the 1923 South Platte River Compact specifically provides Nebraska with authority over water and land in Colorado for the canal project. 

He said $500 million in funding for the project will be included in his proposed budget, which he will share with the Legislature on Thursday.

“Given the state’s strong financial position, budget resources are available to undertake this historic project without incurring a penny of debt,” he said.

Ricketts said Nebraskans have been great stewards of water. As an example, the state has maintained the Ogallala Aquifer, on average, within one foot of it’s level in the 1950s. 

Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson said the South Platte River Compact, signed in 1923, divides the waters of the South Platte, ensuring certain flows will be delivered to Nebraska at the state line near Julesburg, Colo. 

Attorney General Doug Peterson

Construction of the canal and storage system (referred to as the “Perkins County Canal” when the compact was signed) along the state border will preserve Nebraska’s sovereign right to its share of the South Platte River water into the future, Peterson said.

Other projects too

Speaker of the Legislature Mike Hilgers proposed a number of plans to enhance Nebraska’s existing water assets and create new water resources for Nebraskans to enjoy, enumerated during the past six months by the Legislature’s Statewide Tourism and Recreational Water Access and Resource Sustainability (STAR WARS) special committee. 

Sen. Mike Hilgers

The committee is unanimously recommending them for approval by the Unicameral. Among the plans, the STAR WARS Committee proposal calls for:

  • A new marina and related amenities at Lake McConaughy, along with additional road improvements to alleviate congestion and improve public safety.
  • Replacement of a boat access facility along the Niobrara River in Knox County to provide access to the world-class hunting and fishing in the area.
  • Construction of an event center and lodge at Niobrara State Park. 
  • A major marina expansion at Lewis and Clark Lake.
  • Flood control measures along the lower Platte River near Schuyler and the Wahoo Creek watershed.
  • Creation of a 4,000-acre reservoir between Lincoln and Omaha.

The proposals presented Monday are contingent on legislative approval and will be discussed by senators during the Unicameral’s 60-day session that began Jan. 3.

The South Platte River at North Platte, Jan. 12. Photo by George Lauby.

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