With many Western states in severe drought and vying for their share of a diminishing amount of water, Nebraska is taking a new tact by trying to divert water from a river it shares with Colorado.
The Nebraska Legislature this week approved construction of a $53 million canal in Colorado that would solidify its share of water from the South Platte River that flows through both states.
As climate change makes the West hotter and drier, cities and states will intensify efforts to find and secure water, and Nebraska’s pre-emptive move could be a precursor to how Western states react as competition for the natural resource grows, experts said.
The Nebraska law gives the state authority to draw water from the Platte in a move state officials said would secure its portion of the river’s water supply and help protect communities, businesses, agriculture and the environment across the state of 2 million people.
Both states have the right to draw from the river under a 1923 compact. Nebraska officials said they decided to exercise their right to build the canal to circumvent any big water projects Colorado may have planned for the river.
“Colorado was going to start doing some water projects that would take up a bunch of water that Nebraska would have otherwise been entitled to,” said Denny Vaggalis, legal counsel for Nebraska state Sen. Mike Hilgers, a Republican who introduced the legislation.
“We’re going to move forward to construct the canal to make sure we’re going to get that water.”