U.S. Water News Online
LINCOLN, Neb. -- The 15-year lawsuit over North Platte
River water rights in Wyoming and Nebraska is closer to being over.
Details of an agreement between the two states were announced
recently. Among the proposed changes are limits on irrigation in
Wyoming and increases in water monitoring while allowing Nebraska to
retain its right to 75 percent of the river's water flows.
The U.S. Supreme Court must approve the settlement, which Gov.
Mike Johanns said was in everybody's best interest after an expensive
and lengthy legal battle.
``The settlement is not only good for Nebraska, but it also works
for Wyoming,'' Johanns said at a news conference where details of the
settlement were revealed.
Wyoming Gov. Jim Geringer said in a statement that the possibility
of a lengthy trial played a part in the decision to settle.
``While Wyoming's case was strong and I am confident that
Wyoming's legal team would have put forward the very best defense
possible to Nebraska's claims, there is always uncertainty in
litigation,'' Geringer said.
That uncertainty also motivated Nebraska to settle, Johanns said.
In the 15 years since the lawsuit began, each state has spent
about $20 million on its case. Johanns called that an unfortunate
investment in time and money.
Under the agreement, Wyoming is limited to the number of acres
that can be irrigated and how much water can be used for that
irrigation and use of water in dry years will automatically be
regulated by Wyoming.
There are also new requirements for water use monitoring and data
collection, and a committee is formed to collect information and
resolve disputes before they reach the level of a lawsuit.
Nebraska retains its right to 75 percent of the river's water
flows from eastern Wyoming into Nebraska that was part of a 1945
Placing water use restrictions on Wyoming irrigators will ensure
that flows on the North Platte River are sufficient for Nebraska
users, Attorney General Don Stenberg said.
The added monitoring and data collection requirements will help
ensure that terms of the agreement are followed, Johanns said.
``This won't work if we walk away from it,'' he said.
The settlement was heralded by representatives of Nebraska
irrigators who benefit from the North Platte River, as well as
Audubon Nebraska, the Central Nebraska Public Power District, and
state Sens. Roger Wehrbein of Plattsmouth and Adrian Smith of Gering.
The conflict dates back to the 1930s.
A 1934 lawsuit filed by Nebraska was resolved in 1945 by the U.S.
Supreme Court, which established the distribution of the river's
water flows at 75 percent for Nebraska and 25 percent for Wyoming.
Nebraska's lawsuit against Wyoming in 1986 accused the state of
using more than its share of water as allotted in the 1945 decree.
Since then a number of interim agreements have been reached on some
issues, but the heart of the lawsuit has not been settled.
The North Platte River begins in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado
and loops through Wyoming before merging with the South Platte River
in central Nebraska. The rivers form the Platte River, which flows
eastward to the Missouri River just below Omaha.
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