Penalized for taking care of land?

Friday, March 10, 2006

Predictably, Dave Nabity's opponents for governor think he has a bad idea.

The Omaha businessman said if elected he would seek compensation from the federal government to bring Nebraska into compliance with a multistate water compact, as well as fire the head of the state's Department of Natural Resources and consider diverting water from aquifers to increase stream flows.

U.S. Rep. Tom Osborne said "I don't understand where this is all coming from."

Gov. Dave Heineman called Nabity's comments "irresponsible, inappropriate and ill-informed," and said he was shocked that Nabity criticized a deal in the works to buy water rights from irrigators in the Bostwick Irrigation District and send the water to Kansas to help avoid a lawsuit.

"It has the support of the attorney general's office, the local natural resources districts, our Department of Natural Resources and ultimately we hope a vote of the people in the irrigation district," Heineman said.

But one point made by Nebraska Assistant Attorney Gen. Dave Cookson at Wednesday's water conference could be used to buttress Nabity's point.

Experts, Cookson told the conference, are looking at the removal and trees and undergrowth along the Republican River and at the use of land conservation practices such as CREP and EQIP that take farmland out of production.

Both Cookson and Dan Smith, manager of the Middle Republican Natural Resources District that sponsors the event, cautioned that over use of CREP and EQIP hurt the local economy through lower sales of seed, implements and other ag service industries.

We all agree that conservation practices are a good thing that should be continued. Keeping water on the land where it falls, and preventing it from washing fertile soil away, are just good stewardship.

But should farmers who follow those practices be penalized just because those programs, promoted by the federal government, were not in place when the Republican River Compact was first signed?

That could be the argument, valid or not, for asking the federal government for support.

It's a sad state of affairs when circumstances penalize a farmer for doing the right thing, but is it always up to the taxpayers to make things right?

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