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Why Colorado Has Concerns About Nebraska's Plan To Construct A Canal From South Platte River Into Nebraska

FORT COLLINS, Colo. (CBS4) - Nebraska lawmakers recently sent a bill to their governor's desk approving construction of a canal that will pull water from the South Platte River in Colorado, even as Colorado continues to navigate concerns of drought and decreasing river levels. Nebraska's governor is expected to sign the bill into law, which will allocate funding for the construction of a canal from Colorado into Nebraska, with the hope that the water will be pooled in a reservoir.

The plan comes nearly 100 years after Colorado and Nebraska agreed to a water rights compact that gave Nebraska the authority to pull from the South Platte River during non-irrigation months in Colorado. However, water experts and elected officials in Colorado have expressed their concerns with the possibilities of the century-old compact coming to fruition under a changing landscape.

"That is an agreement that was made between the states back 100 years ago when competition for the water was ramping up, and the states decided it was a good idea to get it in writing how they were going to share the water," said Kevin Rein, State Engineer for Colorado Division of Water Resources.

Rein told CBS4's Dillon Thomas that the state, and his office, were unaware of Nebraska's plans to activate the compact until an hour before they made a public announcement. In the months to follow the announcement Nebraska has still failed to provide Colorado any insight as to what their plans for the canal would be.

"We have not seen the details of Nebraska's plans," Rein said. "We did not have any understanding of this, we were not asked about it, or was there any opportunity to provide input."

Colorado State University's Water Resources Archives, provided to CBS4, show research was done into the compact in the 1920s. Thorough research was done to explore how the canal would work, and what would be flawed in the plan, if Nebraska were to pull from the Platte.

However, Rein said that the plan failed to account for the significant population boom in Colorado alongside other factors like the growth of the agriculture industry and climate change's impacts on Colorado's access to water.

Colorado has eight water compacts with other states, one belonging to Nebraska. Some have suggested that the water of 2022 and beyond wouldn't be sufficient to meet Nebraska's hopes and needs. The compact allows Nebraska to create a diversion near Brush, Colorado. However, it does not have any authority over how much water is pulled from further upstream, where many modern communities and entities are already tapping in.

Rein said he couldn't comment on whether or not the project would be successful or not, purely because Nebraska hasn't provided any insight into what they actually plan to do.

"We need to project back and imagine what they were thinking. Because, the world was different. That state was different. That water use was different," Rein said.

"Colorado is going to be very protective of our water rights, of our allowances under the compact, and our ability to make sure that, if they are going to divert water, they are doing it in strict compliance with the compact."

Gov. Jared Polis' office sent CBS4 a statement calling Nebraska's recent actions a political stunt, adding that Nebraska risks wasting their taxpayer dollars for a potentially useless canal that will only negatively impact hardworking farmers in Colorado.

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