Lincoln County water project center of Legislative Hearing

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LINCOLN, Neb. (KNOP) - NCORPE, an organization created by local four Natural Resource Districts, is pumping water out of the ground in southern Lincoln County. The water keeps Nebraska in compliance with the Tri-State Water Compact.

Water graphic by MGN.

NCORPE now owns the land and took it out of agriculture production and off the tax rolls. North Platte Senator, Mike Groene, wants NCORPE to be able to sell the land and let someone make money on it again and pay taxes.

The Natural Resources Committee hosted a hearing today for LB-1123.

Ryan Mcintosh represented Landowners for a Common Purpose. He wants LB-1123 passed. He says it carves a narrow exception out in state law that would let the Natural Resource Districts carry out augmentation project and not own the land.

Tom Schwarz is a Bertrand farmer representing the Nebraska Farm Bureau, Farmers Union of Nebraska, plus several state organizations. He is concerned LB-1123 could apply to other projects and have unintended consequences. He says it could fundamentally change Nebraska's ground water law.

Schwarz understand the tax burden on Lincoln County, but thinks we need more time to study the plan.

Lincoln County Farmer, Marvin Knoll says NCORPE took 7% of the farm and ranch land in Lincoln County out of production. Knoll farms pieces of land on both sides of the NCORPE property. He says the Wallace and Maywood schools took the biggest hits in property tax payments.

Wallace School District supports LB1123, as NCORPE took 11,700 acres out of production which created an 8% funding loss to the School District.

Terry Martin sits on the NCORPE board and represented the organization at the hearing . He says NCORPE is against LB-1123. He says any changes to the law could jeopardize the project which he says is working well and keeping the state in compliance with Colorado and Kansas.
Martin says in the past five years, each ag land water user paid $60,000 in Occupation Taxes to support the NCOPRE project which secures the farmers' water rights to keep their irrigation systems.

Steve Mossman is the attorney for Landowners for a Common Purpose.
He says Senator Groene's Amendment 1819 to LB1123 only applies to augmentation project by Natural Resource District. Mossman says Amendement 1819 does not severe water from the land, and there is zero risk of unintended consequences.

Russell Callan, General Manager of the Lower Loup NRD, cautioned the committee not to separate the water from the land and not to treat water like a mineral right.

Ty Walker, a Sandhills Rancher, says NCORPE protects the way he waters on his ranch. Walker says he doesn't like the occupation tax, but sees it as an investment.