Water is the issue of the decade. It is an absolutely critical issue for our state because of the impact water has on agriculture and economic development. There is increasing competition for water and yet our supply has not increased.
The water issue is complex, complicated and challenging. It is very important that all parties work together for the overall best interests of Nebraska.
In the last legislative session, the Legislature passed and I signed into law LB 1057 which authorizes the Republican River Basin Water Sustainability Task Force. The task force held its first meeting in McCook on June 23.
The purpose of the task force is to help develop consensus from basin leaders on several water management issues. Task force members are responsible for defining water sustainability for the Republican River Basin, and developing a plan for achieving water sustainability in the basin.
The task force includes 22 voting members and 4 ex-officio non-voting members. The 4 ex-officio members are Senators Carlson, Christensen, Hansen and Langemeier.
Voting members include: two representatives from each of the four Republican River Basin Natural Resources Districts (NRDs); four representatives from basin area irrigation districts; one representative each from the University of Nebraska Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, and the Nebraska Departments of Agriculture and Natural Resources; one representative each from a school district, a city, a county, and a public power district in the basin, and two representatives from agriculture-related businesses in the basin.
The Legislature and I are looking forward to the recommendations from the task force.
In the short-term, it is essential for the State of Nebraska to continue maintaining compliance with the Republican River Compact. In the long-term, the State of Nebraska needs to develop sound water management strategies for the Republican River Basin that will benefit future generations.
I want to emphasize that we are making progress. Farmers and ranchers have voluntarily reduced their consumptive use of water. The State of Nebraska has invested millions of dollars in surface water leases and in removing vegetation from the Republican River.
Short-term, the Upper, Middle and Lower Republican River NRDs need to pass their updated Integrated Management Plans. Long-term, the key is to develop a plan to ensure the economic vitality of southwest Nebraska and continue maintaining compact compliance.
I realize our water challenges are important, significant and difficult, but I am confident that by working together, we can continue to move Nebraska forward.