by Greg Walcher, E&E Legal Senior Policy Fellow
As appearing in the Daily Sentinel

An announcement last week in Lincoln, Nebraska, raised the hackles of everyone involved in Colorado water. Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts unveiled a $500 million plan to build canals in Colorado to divert water from the South Platte River into Nebraska, and to condemn private land in Colorado, if necessary, for that purpose. That last bit got everyone’s attention, because one state couldn’t normally condemn land in another state, but this was based on an obscure section of the 1923 South Platte Compact, a century-old water-sharing agreement that still strictly governs the allocation of water.

Ricketts based his announcement, at least partly, on Nebraska’s claim that Colorado’s own water plan could reduce water flows into his state by 90% in the near future, endangering Nebraska’s farms and cities. So, he plans to invoke the old canal right, which supposedly allows Nebraska to seize Colorado land along the South Platte to build a canal abandoned a century ago.
That 1923 Compact, still in force, is quite specific, like all the other compacts governing Colorado’s other rivers. It entitles Nebraska to 120 cubic feet per second in the South Platte during the irrigation season and 500 cubic feet per second during the non-irrigation season. The two states have always met frequently to monitor that agreement, through a compact commission established for that purpose. When I was director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources (DNR), it was an important process, as it has continued to be. Colorado was expertly represented by the late Howard Propst, Agriculture Commissioner Don Ament, and Kent Holsinger, one of Colorado’s top water attorneys. And to be clear, Colorado has always fully complied with the terms of the compact, and has never shorted Nebraska its entitled share.