LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — The Nebraska legislature on Tuesday finally approved a bill that would allow the state to build a canal in Colorado to divert water from the South Platte River, a project amid fears over permeated the growing water use in the Denver area.
Legislators passed the measure with little fanfare, 42-4, and sent it to Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts, who proposed the idea and is expected to sign it.
The legislation will allow the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources to begin work on the estimated $500 million canal. However, they have only approved $53.5 million in funding, which will force the department to seek more money next year to continue the project.
State officials plan to use the initial money for design work, permits and purchase options to potentially purchase land for the project in the future.
Ricketts announced in January plans to invoke Nebraska’s right to build the canal under the South Platte River Compact, a legally binding water-sharing agreement approved by Nebraska, Colorado and Congress in 1923.
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Construction of the canal would give Nebraska the right to claim some of the water in the late fall, winter, and early spring and store it for drier times. Colorado has always met its obligation to provide at least 120 cubic feet of water per second during the summer irrigation season, but it has no such obligation during the non-irrigated season.
Some Nebraska lawmakers have questioned whether the project is necessary.
A spokesman for Colorado Gov. Jared Polis called the project “a malicious attempt to undermine a century-long and successful compact between Colorado and Nebraska and a costly windfall for Nebraska taxpayers.”
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