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Archive for Friday, July 29, 2011

Nebraska high court rejects irrigation district’s appeal regarding Republican River water rights

July 29, 2011

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— The Nebraska Supreme Court on Friday rejected an irrigation district's appeal asking the court to compel the state to designate areas of the Republican River basin as over-appropriated.

The Frenchman Cambridge Irrigation District, which is in the southwest of the state, had argued that the river basin's current designation as fully appropriated isn't sustainable. The district is most concerned with portions of the river upstream of a diversion dam in Cambridge. A change from fully- to over-appropriated would put stricter limits on the amount of water that can be used in that part of the river basin.

The Department of Natural Resources has held that it doesn't have the authority to upgrade the basin's appropriation status under revisions made in 2004 to a state water law.

In its opinion, the high court said it doesn't have jurisdiction in the case because the irrigation district failed to show how it was injured by the state agency's decision.

The Republican River starts in eastern Colorado, flows into Kansas and Nebraska and then returns to Kansas in Republic County in the northeastern part of the state. Its basin covers almost 25,000 square miles. A 1943 river compact signed by the three states allocates 49 percent of the river's water to Nebraska, 40 percent to Kansas and 11 percent to Colorado.

In 1998, Kansas sued Nebraska, alleging its neighbor to the north violated the compact by allowing thousands of wells to tap the river and its tributaries. The three states settled that lawsuit, and the U.S. Supreme Court's decree approved the settlement. But Kansas officials have continued to complain that Nebraska is taking too much water. Kansas and Nebraska are working with an arbitrator to resolve their latest disagreements over the river, but the case could wind up back in the U.S. Supreme Court.

Jeanelle Lust of Lincoln, an attorney for the Frenchman Cambridge Irrigation District, was out of the office Friday and did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment.

Shannon Kingery, a spokeswoman for the state attorney general's office, which represented the state, said the decision speaks for itself.

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