Water transfer opponents speak out to committee

Thursday, May 18, 2006

A hearing in Holdrege on Tuesday shows just how tough a time proponents of a plan to transfer water from the Platte to the Republican River basin are going to have selling the idea.

Among the chief spokesmen for the opponents, at a hearing of the Legislature's Natural Resources Committee, was Kent Miller, general manager of the Twin Platte Natural Resources District.

Miller, who is also familiar to Southwest Nebraskans as a member of the Mid-Plains Community College Area board of governors, makes some good points.

Which he should, as a manager of Platte River water resources.

The Platte basin doesn't have enough water to share, and needs all it can get because of a pending federal-state agreement to support endangered species in the river in central Nebraska, Miller said. Moving water to the Harlan County Reservoir, as proposed, would "allow a difficult and challenging situation now in the Platte to be impossible."

NRD's up and down the Platte expressed similar views.

"There's no sound reason to encourage or even allow transferring water from a fully appropriated basin to satisfy the depletion of the same resource in another fully appropriated basin," said Myron Lembke, a Bridgeport-area irrigator and member of the North Platte NRD in the Panhandle.

And Gary Mader, utilities director of the City of Grand Island, called the Platte's flows a vital "ribbon of clean water" for his city.

But as an Omaha World-Herald report pointed out, Nebraska used an estimated 104,000 acre-feet more last year than allowed under a Republican River Compact settlement last year.

And, although the state is trying to resolve the shortage by paying some farmers to quit irrigating cropland and leasing water from irrigators, Nebraska could use tens of thousands of acre-feet more than allowed next year, leading to multimillion-dollar penalties.

Proponent Steve Smith of Imperial, director of WaterClaim, which first proposed the idea 18 months ago, told the committee "transfers are not an engineering problem. They are not a cost issue. They are a political issue."

But finding enough political capital to make a Platte-Republican water transfer a reality will take little short of a miracle.

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