- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 16, 2014

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Gov. Dave Heineman signed a bill Wednesday designed to help Nebraska prepare for floods, water shortages and water quality problems.

Budget bills approved this year are expected to generate $32 million to help pay for projects related to water management and quality, flood control, and compliance with interstate compacts by mid-2015. After that, the measure will provide about $11 million annually.

The bill by Sen. Tom Carlson, of Holdrege, comes in the midst of recent drought years and legal fights with Kansas over access to the Republican River, which runs through southern Nebraska.

“This is a difficult and challenging issue, and this legislation is aimed at planning for better future water use in our state,” Heineman said. “… Preserving and managing our water resources is important to Nebraskans, especially those who work in our No. 1 industry - agriculture.”

The law will also expand the Natural Resources Commission, from 16 members to 27, to ensure that more major water users are represented. The new commission would include irrigators, cities, public power districts and wildlife conservation groups.

Carlson, a Republican candidate for governor, said the commission was expanded to include people from different backgrounds and different interests in the state’s water supply.

“I believe that (the measure) will be remembered as a bill that helped make water sustainability a possibility for generations to come,” he said.

Sen. Mark Christensen of Imperial said the law will provide water projects with a steady source of state money, matched by local government dollars. Christensen said it also will force ground water and surface water users to work together, despite their past conflicts over the limited water supply.

“For too many years now, we’ve been on opposite sides of the fence, fighting rather than working together,” he said.

Carlson and Christensen represent large areas of southern Nebraska, including parts of the Republican River basin. Water usage in the basin is driven heavily by the Republican River compact, an agreement between Nebraska, Kansas and Colorado. The 1943 compact requires Nebraska to send some of its water downstream to Kansas, but the two states have battled over the river for years in a series of lawsuits.

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The bill is LB1098

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