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Nebraska plans to implement water rights established in 1923 compact

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Lincoln, Neb. – Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts recently announced a $500 million plan to divert water from the South Platte River in Colorado. 

Rickett’s plan is made possible due to the 99-year-old compact between the two states. The South Platte River Compact was approved in 1923 to ensure water consumption requirements were met by both states.

Ricketts said Colorado has recently announced nearly 300 projects with about $10 billion in water projects on Colorado’s side of the border.

“If these projects were to go forward, it would dramatically reduce the amount of water coming into the state of Nebraska,” Ricketts said at a news conference. “Should all the long-term goals be affected, they would reduce the amount of water flow coming to the state of Nebraska by 90 percent.”

The compact outlines Nebraska’s right to access 897.6 gallons of water per second from the river during the irrigation season – April 1 to Oct. 15 – and 3,740 gallons per second during the non-irrigation season.

According to Ricketts, Colorado has been issuing water usage permits which “infringe upon” the 3,740 gallons per second amount of water Nebraska is entitled to during the non-irrigation season. He is concerned water flow to Nebraska may drastically decrease if water isn’t directly diverted from the river.

Diverting water for ag
and consumption

The compact allows Nebraska to construct and operate canals on Colorado’s land in order to transfer water to Nebraska. Nebraska can purchase land from Colorado landowners along the South Platte River or use eminent domain to secure the land.

Nebraska began to build a canal system before WWI, near Julesburg, Colo., and the abandoned project still exists. Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson said it’s time for Nebraska to finish something that has needed to be completed for a long time.

Colorado released a report this month projecting a 42 to 70 percent growth of population living within the river basin between 2015 and 2050.

Peterson acknowledged Colorado’s current water shortages and projects saying, “It’s imperative that we finish this element and then go forward in exercising further rights under the contract.” He said the compact is Nebraska’s vital legal right.

According to Ricketts, Nebraska is the largest irrigated state in the country, with nine million irrigated acres. He believes agriculture in Nebraska will suffer without diverting the water. 

Aside from agriculture, there may be a shortage of drinking water, which will not only affect cities near the river, but large cities like Lincoln and Omaha as well.

Ricketts said it’s time for Nebraska to take action.

“Nebraska has a long history of working to preserve, protect, manage and steward our water resources,” Ricketts said. “Water is incredibly important to us.”

Kaitlyn Root is an editor for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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