U.S. Water News Online
PASADENA, Calif. -- A long-running battle between Wyoming
and Nebraska over division of North Platte River water ended with an
11th-hour settlement agreement before the start of what was expected
to be a two-year trial.
Specifics of the agreement in principle were not released because
details remained to be worked out, a process expected to be complete
by the end of the year.
``Western water disputes are very difficult to settle and I know
this did not come easily,'' said Owen Olpin, a so-called special
master who would have presided over the estimated two-year trial.
``We wish you well in getting the rest of the way.''
Pasadena, the Southern California home of the 9th U.S. Circuit
Court of Appeals, had been chosen as neutral ground for trial of
Nebraska's claim that Wyoming was taking too much water.
Olpin, a water law specialist who has presided over the dispute
for years, took the bench but turned the floor over to Nebraska's
attorney, Richard Simms.
``The parties have reached an agreement in principle on the
remaining issues in the case that will result in dismissal of the
case,'' Simms said.
More talks are needed to iron out details, he said, asking that
the case be stayed until Dec. 1, when a final settlement will be
Lawyers for other parties, including Wyoming, Colorado, and the
U.S. government, joined in the agreement. Basin Electric, a utility
with Wyoming operations, said it had not joined but was working out
details to participate.
In Wyoming, Gov. Jim Geringer said the pact was more than an
agreement to negotiate.
``We literally settled this on the courthouse steps,'' Geringer
said. ``That's very good for Wyoming. That's good for Nebraska. There
is going to be plenty of debate over are there winners and losers. It
should not be viewed that way.''
Conflict between Nebraska and Wyoming over the North Platte dates
to the 1930s.
A lawsuit filed by Nebraska in 1934 was resolved in 1945,
allocating water tha t flows from eastern Wyoming into Nebraska at 75
percent for Nebraska and 25 percent for Wyoming.
Nebraska sued again in 1986, claiming Wyoming was using more than
its share of water as allotted in the 1945 U.S. Supreme Court decree.
Since then there have been interim agreements on some issues, but the
heart of the lawsuit remained unsettled.
Olpin was glad to see the resolution, although it took an
inordinate amount of time.
``Good heavens -- 13 years on one lawsuit!'' he said.
Outside the court, Simms said the agreement sets out procedures
``to monitor and control the flow of the river to the benefit of both
The agreement was reached at 11 p.m. Tuesday, he said, and
short-circuited an array of intricate logistical plans.
``We have all rented offices and apartments. We moved scores of
computers and hard copy, hundreds of bankers boxes of material in
preparation for this trial,'' he said.
The parties will probably return to Pasadena to finalize the
settlement, he said.
While all the claims Nebraska made in its 1986 suit were against
Wyoming, Colorado included itself as a participant in proceedings
because it was a party to the original 1945 decree, said Ken Lane,
spokesman for Colorado Attorney General Ken Salazar.
``Colorado was in there to make sure that if any claims arose
affecting Colorado water rights, we would be there already to defend
against them,'' said Lane. He said no claims were ever asserted
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