It seems there is a lot of interest of late as to the meaning of "sustainability." According to Webster's New World Dictionary the first meaning is: to keep in existence; maintain or prolong. It would be rational to assume that to sustain water would be to keep it in existence, maintain or prolong it.
Senator Carlson's proposal for a sustainability task force is a sincere attempt to resolve many indiscretions in the Republican River Basin. A year may not seem like much time but most of the issues have been on the table a long time. Some issues are the result of local control being inconsistent and to some degree self serving. Some of these issues would be the way various Natural Resource Districts deal with water allocations, water marketing, water banking, allowable stream depletions and how these issues are integrated between NRDs and between ground water and surface water. State policies could also use some reinforcement of impartial review. Some of the State issues would be the amount of water allocated to NRDs, how water crossing the state line is credited in Nebraska to adjust allocations, should allocations reflect recharge rates, should allocations be tied to minimum stream flows, should water be banked and marketed by surface water users, what is an acceptable water transfer policy, is it cost effective to clean river channels, is it cost effective to retire acres, is it cost effective to have trans-basin diversions, what is an acceptable penalty when one area over uses or over pumps water that causes an adverse effect on another area, and others issues.
Since before the early 1990s all of these issues existed and those responsible chose to subscribe to the "do nothing" approach. First, it was said there was no connection between ground and surface water. Those familiar with hydrology were not surprised when the special master said there was. Second, it was said it took between 20 to 40 years for some impacts to reach the river so no action was necessary. If action would have been started in the 1990s at least half of the impacts would now have been mitigated. Third, let us blame the state for encouraging limited actions during the time of litigation. However, I believe it was always within the power of the NRDs to stop well drilling until they had the information to manage the resource.
Do we need better resource management in the basin? Yes! I commend Senator Carlson and would ask for his support.
Finally, when we talk of sustainability do we need to talk about New York and California? Could we consider water like seed and fertilizer? If every farmer took his truck to town to get his seed and fertilizer and the supply was limited, would it be acceptable for those in the front of the line to take it all and those at the end to go without? This scenario is not good for the economy or for local policy. Some of the current options for water short years would not impact some but could devastate others.
I am not promoting one policy (NRD or state) above others but am emphasizing the need for integration and consistency so water may be sustainable for everyone (surface, ground, recreation, riparian and municipal).