With the Kansas lawsuit, and local Natural Resources Districts (NRDs) writing new Integrated Management Plans (IMPs), I thought it appropriate to explain over the next couple of weeks how this affects Southwest Nebraska.
In 2008, Kansas asked in arbitration for $72 million in damages from Nebraska, and for Nebraska to shut off wells within 2.5 miles of the stream for failing to comply with the 2003 settlement to the compact. However, in mid 2009 the arbitrator only recommended a $10,000 reward for damages. However, in the view of the arbitrator, Nebraska had still not done enough to ensure compliance during dry years.
A few weeks ago, on May 3, after evaluating the situation, Kansas' Attorney General Steve Six filed with the U.S. Supreme Court asking them to hear their complaint against Nebraska and enforce the 2002 settlement. They are asking for many of the same things as before. Nebraska has until July 6 to respond to Kansas. The U.S. Supreme Court will then decide whether to hear Kansas' complaint against Nebraska.
In their letter to the court, Kansas, is asking for Nebraska to be adjudged in contempt of court and to be enjoined from further violations of the decree. They are again asking for monetary damages from Nebraska for shortages during the drought in the first half of this decade. They are seeking preset sanctions for future violations and a reduction in pumping by a date certain. Moreover, and maybe most importantly, they are asking for an appointment of a river master to monitor annually Nebraska's compliance.
If the river basin is made subject to a river master, that individual will decide the winners and losers in our area. There will be very little local control with the potential of uncompensated shutoffs, maybe permanent.
The negative economic impact of what Kansas is asking for and what could come down from the courts is serious for our region. Ray Supalla's (an agricultural economist at UNL) 2004 study on the impact of reducing irrigation in the Republican River Basin suggests that the economic impact can be modest, only if re-allocation policy is done properly, otherwise the results could be devastating to the economy of the river basin. The Supalla study published in the, spring 2005 FOCUS magazine is based on a 10 percent, 20 percent reduction in groundwater use and a worst-case drought scenario of 13 percent plus an additional 120,000 acre-feet of reduced pumping for quick response wells, amounting to about 40,000 acre-feet of water. Currently, the river basin is at risk of a reduction that is much worse than the worst-case scenario.
A worst-case scenario loss of irrigated land will affect fertilizer, seed, diesel fuel, and other input businesses. Hired labor will be affected by a large decrease in productivity. Irrigated land taxes can be approximately three times that of dryland and will cause a reduction in revenue for schools and local government. These are just a few of the potential economic fallout if we do not work together to maintain our way of life.
Unfortunately, some of the infighting among us, along with lawsuits, has done little to solve the main issue at hand, and has stalled our ability to act sooner. We cannot afford to be divided by districts, occupations, organizations, and communities, because the river ties us all together. We have to come together, or we will let someone we have never met decide whether you or your neighbor can continue their livelihood.
As of today, we do not know whether or not the Supreme Court will hear the complaint, or if they do what their decision will be. However, it seems to me, now more than ever, we need to work together to avoid a bad outcome from the courts. This is what many of us have been working so hard to do, to put "tools" in place for local elected officials to help increase river flow.
Next week I would like to explain the three options the Department of Natural Resources has given the Republican River NRDs to amend their IMPs to better address compliance in dry years, along with the "tools" available to help avoid dry years.
I would also like to remind and highly encourage my constituents to attend the MRNRD and URNRD IMP management open hearings. It is important that everyone is involved for the economic viability of our region. The MRNRD will be meeting June 8th at 7pm at the Curtis Community Center and the URNRD will be meeting June 10th at 7:30pm at the URNRD office in Imperial.
If you have any questions, comments, or concerns regarding this issue, or any other issue, please, call my office at 402-471-2805 or for more information you can view my legislative website at http://news.legislature.ne.gov/dist44/.