Nebraska, Colorado governors spar over water rights

Published: Jan. 12, 2022 at 10:46 PM CST
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(WOWT) - After Gov. Pete Ricketts announced Nebraska would start building a canal in Colorado to better access river water, the neighboring governor fired back saying his state hasn’t been withholding water.

The water in question is from the snowmelt of the Rocky Mountains, which flows into the South Platte River and into western Nebraska.

Ricketts said a 99-year-old agreement between the two states operates well during the growing season, but he’s concerned new projects in Colorado that would tap into the river will seriously hamper the water flow. Because of that, Ricketts plans to finish building a 24-mile stretch of canal that would start in Julesburg, Colo., and lead to a yet-to-be-built reservoir in western Nebraska.

In a statement, Gov. Polis said: “Any actual proposed project by Nebraska in Colorado would receive rigorous review to ensure it is in compliance with the compact, private property rights, Colorado water law... environmental obligations... and endangered species issues.”

He went on to say that the proposed water projects Ricketts is worried about in Colorado are not formally approved. He said the state respects the water compact with Nebraska and looks forward to a productive dialogue with Gov. Ricketts.

Read the full statement from Gov. Polis

“We will continue to protect and aggressively assert Colorado’s rights under all existing water compacts. Colorado has been in full compliance with the South Platte Compact for the 99 years the agreement has been in place, and water has not and is not being withheld from Nebraska. Recent comments from Governor Ricketts seem to reflect a misunderstanding of Colorado’s locally driven water planning process. Our collaborative basin roundtables are a way that grassroots ideas and recommendations for solutions to Colorado’s future water needs are brainstormed. These ideas should not be taken as formally approved projects that will be implemented and all are subject to major conversations including with Nebraska. We hope to more fully understand Nebraska’s concerns and goals, as so far those concerns and goals are quite simply hard to make sense of. Our longstanding compliance of and respect for the water agreement between our states on the South Platte River remains intact and we hope that our partners in Nebraska will show that they share that respect.

Colorado and Nebraska have long worked together on our interstate water issues because of Colorado’s privileged status as a headwaters state. However, any actual proposed project by Nebraska in Colorado would receive rigorous review to ensure it is in compliance with the Compact, private property rights, Colorado water law, and state and federal environmental obligations, as endangered species issues among others are of critical concern on the South Platte River. I look forward to a productive dialogue with Governor Ricketts on the important issues of water development and protection of our natural resources in both Colorado and Nebraska.”

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis

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