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Ricketts will seek $500 million Platte River canal system appropriation now

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Water Fight Nebraska

Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts announces a $500 million plan to build canals in neighboring Colorado on Monday. The project would divert water out of Colorado to ensure that it gets its share under the South Platte Compact, a water-sharing agreement enacted in 1923. 

Gov. Pete Ricketts said Tuesday his mid-biennium budget recommendations to the Legislature will include a $500 million appropriation to construct a canal system to ensure Nebraska's continued access to South Platte River water flowing into the state from Colorado.

"Upon approval, we'll engage stakeholders on project location and design," Ricketts wrote in his weekly newsletter.

The governor will address the Legislature on Thursday for his annual State of the State address. 

"Given the state's strong financial position, budget resources are available to undertake this historic project without incurring a penny of debt," the governor said. 

Ricketts first spoke of the proposal during a news conference Monday, but detailed his plans in the newsletter, including his decision to proceed immediately with an appropriation this year of the resources required to complete the project.

"Colorado's plans to siphon off water from the South Platte River (before it flows into Nebraska) would decrease agricultural water supplies and raise pumping costs for our residents," the governor said.

"It would jeopardize municipal water supplies for Lincoln, Omaha and other Platte River communities.

"The loss of water would threaten the cooling water supplies for Gerald Gentleman Station, Nebraska's largest electric-generation facility" and undercut the state's capacity to generate hydroelectric power while increasing costs and regulatory burdens, Ricketts said.

"Constructing the canal is the primary means for Nebraska to exercise our legal rights to water flows from the South Platte River," he said.

Ricketts had earlier said Nebraska will exercise its rights under the South Platte River Compact signed in 1923 to waters flowing from the Rocky Mountains through Colorado into the state, acting in the face of plans in Colorado to build projects "to ensure no 'excess' water leaves its state."

That action, undertaken in the form of nearly 300 projects, "threatens to choke off the flow of water into Nebraska," Ricketts said, with estimates of almost a 90% loss. 

On Tuesday, a spokesman for Democratic Colorado Gov. Jared Polis said he was reviewing the matter.

Kevin Rein, Colorado’s state engineer and director of the state’s water resources division, told The Associated Press that officials will work with Nebraska to fully understand the proposal and ensure that Colorado’s interests are protected while respecting Nebraska’s rights under the agreement.

Nebraska started work on a canal before World War I, but abandoned the project, part of which is still visible from Interstate 76 near Julesburg, Colorado.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7248 or dwalton@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSdon

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