LINCOLN, Neb. — Colorado officials have agreed to pay Nebraska $4 million to settle old claims that their state violated a water-sharing compact involving the Republican River, according to a settlement released Thursday.
The settlement requires Colorado to make the payment by Dec. 31, 2018, even though state officials did not admit to any violations of the Republican River Compact. Colorado legislators must approve the funding before the deadline, or the settlement will become invalid.
Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts and Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper touted the settlement as a way to promote cooperation between the states. The settlement was signed by both governors, Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson and Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman.
“Nebraska and Colorado can now continue to focus on providing their water users with greater certainty and to pursue other collaborative opportunities to benefit our shared economies,” Ricketts said.
Coffman said the agreement “avoids the cost and uncertainty of litigation” and seeks to defuse some of the controversy over the river.
Nebraska, Kansas and Colorado have fought for decades over water entitlements provided under the compact. The compact has resulted in lawsuits among the states, which regulate access to the water, and from farmers who said they were cheated out of water they should have received.
The compact signed in 1943 gives Nebraska the rights to 49 percent of the river’s water, while Kansas receives 40 percent and Colorado gets 11 percent. The Republican River originates in Colorado, crosses the northwestern tip of Kansas into Nebraska, then runs through Nebraska before re-entering Kansas through its northeastern corner.
The settlement bars Nebraska from suing Colorado for alleged violations on or before Dec. 31, 2013. Both states have been complying with the compact’s terms since 2015, after Colorado officials finished several projects to augment the river. The settlement also applies to a previous settlement from 2002, which Nebraska had accused Colorado of violating.
Hickenlooper said the payment could be used in the Republican River basin in Nebraska and “creates additional opportunities for cooperative water management between the states.”
Ricketts has recommended that Nebraska lawmakers invest the settlement money in surface water conservation projects in the Republican River basin. Lawmakers have not yet taken action on his request.
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