LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — A leading groundwater management group is recommending that Nebraska preserve its long-term water supply through state aid for canals, ponds and other storage projects.
The Nebraska Association of Resources Districts said any water-conservation aid approved by lawmakers should focus on joint projects involving local NRDs, irrigation companies and the state.
Dean Edson, the group's executive director, said upgrades to existing canals would help recharge the state's groundwater supply. Ponds and reservoirs could help store water when the supply is abundant, so it could be used in dryer years, he said.
"Where there are joint ventures, that should be the priority," he said.
A new water-funding task force is trying to set priorities for water conservation projects and state funding sources, and then send its recommendations to the Legislature in December.
"We're not there yet, in terms of identifying projects and costs," said state Sen. Tom Carlson, the task force chairman. "I think in terms of discussion, I know we're making some headway. There really is not too much argument over the idea that we do need a policy that will keep us sustainable with water."
In July, the task force awarded a $400,000 contract to a Lincoln-based engineering firm, to help develop a long-term plan for the state. Lawmakers budgeted $1 million for the task force when they created it earlier this year.
Carlson said residents in the past have overused water without regard for the long term. He has said he will likely push for a funding source beyond the money available in the state's general fund.
Nebraska is also trying to comply with the Republican River Compact, a 1943 agreement with Colorado and Kansas over water use in the river's basin.
The agreement allocates 49 percent of the Republican River's water to Nebraska, 40 percent to Kansas and 11 percent to Colorado. But Kansas has long accused Nebraska of violating the compact by allowing farmers to divert more than their legal share of the river's water for private use.
The 34-member task force was formed earlier this year. It includes state lawmakers, members of the Natural Resources Commission and appointed members who represent cities, sportsmen, irrigation and power districts and farm and ranching interests.
The group's task is to rank the proposed projects based on which does the most to ensure water is used productively and benefits residents. It will also discuss which proposals are most cost-effective, and whether the state should partner with the federal or local governments.
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