LINCOLN, NEB. The U.S. Supreme Court refused Thursday to dismiss a lawsuit in which Kansas accuses Nebraska of using too much water from the Republican River basin.
The one-sentence order means that the two states will hash the matter out in court unless the issue is settled.
Kansas filed a lawsuit in 1998, accusing Nebraska of violating a 1943 interstate compact by allowing farmers to divert more than their legal share of the river's water for private use.
In January, Special Master Vincent McKusick, who was appointed by the high court to hear the case, rejected a request by Nebraska to dismiss the lawsuit. Nebraska then appealed to the high court.
"The Supreme Court's ruling ... is not a ruling on the merits," said Nebraska Attorney General Don Stenberg. "We continue to believe that Kansas cannot show overuse of water in the sate of Nebraska."
Nebraska has maintained that groundwater use is not regulated by the compact, which also was signed by Colorado, because it was signed before deep-well irrigation was used in the river basin.
McKusick ruled that the compact does regulate groundwater because its use depletes flow in the river.
The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the case without first having the dispute heard in a lower court.
Kansas says Nebraska breached the compact by allowing the proliferation and use of thousands of wells connected to the river and its tributaries along the state's southern border.
Stenberg has said Kansas officials sued even though they knew irrigators in northwestern Kansas were using more than their allotted share of water.
Nebraska says Kansas has received its full allocation of water from the Republican River each year with the exception of 1992, when there was a drought.
Earlier, Kansas waged an 11-year battle with Colorado in a dispute over water in the Arkansas River. Kansas won that lawsuit.