U.S. Water News Online
LINCOLN, Neb. -- Nebraska and Wyoming have been given more time to settle their fight over the use of water from the North Platte River and end 14 years of legal wrangling that have cost each state millions of dollars.
Owen Olpin, a special master who has presided over the dispute, had given the states a deadline to settle their lawsuit. As lawyers and officials from both states worked feverishly in Denver, it became apparent that no agreement would be reached.
Roger Patterson, director of the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources, said he was optimistic a deal could be reached.
``I think the fact that the parties are still at the table ... and making progress is the good news,'' he said. ``But until everything is finally done and captured on paper, you never exactly now. There are a lot of moving parts to this.''
If the case goes to trial, it is expected to take another two years.
The lawsuit has cost Nebraska about $15 million and Wyoming nearly $20 million.
Any agreement reached must be approved by Olpin, the governors, and attorneys general in both states and the U.S. Departments of Interior and Justice.
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.
The dispute was set for trial last spring in Pasadena, Calif., but a last-minute agreement delayed proceedings as the two sides worked toward a final settlement.
The conflict between Nebraska and Wyoming over the North Platte River water date back to the 1930s.
Nebraska filed a lawsuit in 1934 which was resolved in 1945 and divided the water flows from eastern Wyoming into Nebraska at 75 percent for Nebraska and 25 percent for Wyoming.
Nebraska filed a new lawsuit in 1986 against Wyoming for allegedly using more than its share of water as allotted in the 1945 U.S. Supreme Court decree. Since then, there have been a number of interim agreements on some issues, but the heart of the lawsuit has not been settled.
Nebraska also is still mired in an ongoing dispute with Kansas over the use of water from the Republican River.
Kansas filed its lawsuit in 1998, accusing Nebraska of allowing irrigators to divert more than their legal share of the river's water.
An agreement among the states set distribution of the Republican River's waters, with Nebraska getting 49 percent, Kansas 40 percent, and Colorado 11 percent.
Nebraska has said Kansas officials sued even though they knew irrigators in northwestern Kansas were using more than their allotted share of water.
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