Dan Smith, manager of the Middle Republican NRD, wrote a very good letter to the editor on Jan. 5, 2007.
He gave an accurate report of the history and challenges we face. If you haven't read it, you can see it in the McCook Gazette or read it online via a link on WaterClaim.
There is only one problem with what he wrote. It isn't being heard by all representatives who can do something about it. The residents of the Republican River Basin can help save themselves and have started by electing several good political representatives. The offices that matter are State Legislator and NRD boards.
The region now has representatives who understand the problem and are working hard to protect the area. The main things the local resident can do now are testify at Legislative hearings when they come in the next couple months and to tell friends and relatives who live in other parts of the state to contact their representative and tell them how important this issue is to you.
Also, if you are a member of an association, talk to them about this.
Most policy makers in Lincoln who will decide our area's fate have not heard and do not know the facts. For many years, the NRDs have allowed other people to frame the discussion about water.
As a result, people who don't like irrigation have successfully painted it as something bad. Top policy officials have each incorrectly said that there is too much irrigation.
This includes the governor, the assistant attorney general (in charge of legal issues related to water), the head of the Department of Natural Resources, multiple members of the Governor's Water Policy Task Force, many of the NRDs from outside the area, and even some of the local NRD board members.
In other words, there is a large and powerful number of water policy officials who do not understand or agree with the facts that Dan Smith pointed out.
If this area is to survive economically, it is important that the NRDs devote far more resources to education and lobbying for our area than they ever have before.
Right now, when I go to a hearing on water, there are fifteen groups that show and testify against irrigation and one or two representing and testifying on behalf of irrigation. In the past, the NRDs have seen themselves as neutral parties who represent everyone and that it isn't their job to defend irrigation.
As a result, the enemies of irrigation have defined it for them and portrayed the NRDs as stooges.
In the past, the Upper and Middle Republican NRDs put all their faith in working with the DNR. They felt that, if they cooperated and did what the DNR asked, they could trust the DNR to help them.
The message from the DNR on Dec. 15, 2006, was clear that this strategy did not work. If the region wants to protect itself, it needs to put people in Lincoln who can talk to policy makers and educate them on the facts.
Dan Smith's message needs to be heard by state senators. Two or three days in Lincoln by a few NRD board members isn't enough to break through the huge number of other people vying for a senator's attention.
In Lincoln, a senator never needs to buy a meal because there is always someone to pay for it in exchange for 45 minutes of their time.
Most senators have time to read only a small fraction of what they get. Their staff reads some of it and highlights what they think the senator needs to see. The only way to effectively get a senator to hear you is to be there on hand when they are ready to look at the issue.
That is what lobbyists do. They stand around with your message and argument, waiting for the policy maker to have time to think about your issue. The economy of the Republican River Basin is in desperate need of a few more lobbyists to help make our case.
Some may be unfamiliar with or adverse to such methods, but it is a reality we cannot afford to ignore.
Right now, there are three lobbyists in Lincoln who defend the Republican River Basin. They are: Steve Smith with WaterClaim, Don Adams with Nebraskans First, and Kim Robak (representing the Lower Republican NRD).
Dean Edson, Bruce Cutshall, and Trent Nowka represent all NRDs across the State, but not all NRDs agree on what should be done. When Dean, Bruce, and Trent talk, they have to be careful to represent all NRDs, and some of their members publicly demand the Republican River Basin should get no help.
I hope the Upper and Middle Republican NRDs will each put a paid representative in Lincoln to repeat the words of Dan Smith. Lincoln needs to hear this from more than the few.
Those of you who belong to associations, whether it be banking, chamber, optometry, education, medical, farming, etc, let your association know you want your lobbyist to say a good word about the need to support Mark Christensen as he tries to get a water bill passed. Your phone call to your association can make a difference, even though your association has nothing to do with water.
Everyone in the state knows there is a big problem in the Republican River Basin; yet, many have no clue what to do about it. Contact everyone you know across Nebraska to ask their representative to support the water bill. Contact your associations. Contact your own representatives Let's save ourselves together.