- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 2, 2014

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Lawmakers advanced a bill Wednesday designed to protect Nebraska’s long-term water supply, but they postponed a decision on whether to require a basin-wide water management plan around the Republican River.

The bill would help the state move ahead with a series of water conservation projects, chosen by the state’s Natural Resources Commission. It also would expand the commission from 16 to 27 members, including those who represent ground- and surface-water irrigators, cities, power districts and other major water users.

The measure, which won first-round approval Wednesday, also would require the commission to set goals and a ranking system for water conservation projects, paid for out of a new state water sustainability fund. Budget bills approved this year are expected to generate about $32 million for the water fund by mid-2015.

“Other states aren’t managing their water in the best way, but we must manage ours in the right way,” said Sen. Tom Carlson of Holdrege, the bill’s sponsor. “We must become water sustainable to protect our people and our future as a state.”

Senators postponed action on an amendment that would require a basin-wide management plan within the Republican River basin in southern Nebraska. Because the surface water and groundwater supply is connected, groundwater irrigators and surface-water users are often at odds as the state tries to comply with the Republican River Compact.

The 1943 compact between Nebraska, Kansas and Colorado requires Nebraska to send some of its water downstream to Kansas. Nebraska and Kansas have battled over the river for years in a series of lawsuits.

The amendment by Sen. Steve Lathrop of Omaha would require natural resources districts in the Republican River basin to work together on a plan. Lathrop has said the proposal seeks to help Nebraska avoid the fates of Texas, Oklahoma and parts of Kansas that are plagued by drought.

Lathrop pulled the proposal on Tuesday, saying lawmakers planned to work with the Department of Natural Resources and the Nebraska attorney general’s office before considering it again on a second-round debate.

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The bill is LB1098

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