In Nebraska where irrigation is big business and water conflicts are perennial, there's a new water task force soon to be named. The Nebraska Unicameral, on a 45-0 vote this legislative session, passed LB 517 which created the Water Funding Task Force.
Water task forces, committees, commissions, blue ribbon panels, whatever name you give them, have surfaced over the years in Nebraska quite often to study state water issues. There seems to be one about every five years or so.
So what's different about this latest task force? It is charged with coming up with a ranking of water projects, activities and research needs in Nebraska and then to estimate how much funding that would require. I wish the task force luck, especially since it has to provide a finished report to the Unicameral by year's end.
LB 517 was sponsored by State Sen. Tom Carlson of Holdrege, who has a good handle on the state's water resources and issues.
There's never a dull moment in water policy in Nebraska which is blessed with a good supply of water, but where groundwater quality and quantity problems and conflicts between users also exist.
Nebraska water conflict issues changed somewhat several years back. Now it's not just groundwater declines that irrigators, NRDs and the state worry about. It's compliance with interstate river agreements, such as those in the Republican and Platte Basins. Those agreements have a big influence in how our water is managed.
In the Platte River Basin, endangered species requirements in an agreement among the federal government, Nebraska, Colorado and Wyoming have shut down some irrigated acres along the basin.
Farther south in the Republican basin, constant complaining and lawsuits from Kansas threaten that basin's irrigators and economy. Surface water district irrigators have had to release water form their systems to meet compliance issues with Kansas.
The state and NRDs are trying to come up with creative solutions to find more water for Kansas and also to put more water in the Platte.
But regardless of the issue, Nebraska over the years has allocated funds on only a piecemeal basis to address water issues. To put it another way, this state has significantly underfunded the management of one of its greatest resources. I've always wondered why we are so reluctant to fund water management, although the real reason I suspect is a disagreement over who should pay.
Because of the resulting higher production from irrigation, the security it brings to our crop production, the equipment and inputs farmers purchase to bring water to their fields and the jobs created combine to positively affect all Nebraskans. The tab shouldn't fall only on the shoulders of irrigators.
Just how much money is needed to begin to solve these issues? One group of Nebraskans, over a year ago, developed a white paper on the subject and estimated $50 million to $60 million a year. The report suggested that dedicating a portion of the state's sales tax revenues is how to come up with the money.