Natural Resources

New groundwater definitions proposed

Members of the Natural Resources Committee heard testimony Feb. 6 on a bill that would redefine overappropriated groundwater sources.

Under current language adopted as part of the Platte River Recovery Program, only certain sections of the Platte River can be designated as overappropriated.

LB1074, introduced by Omaha Sen. Steve Lathrop, would broaden the language so that any river basin, subbasin or reach could be designated as overappropriated if a state Department of Natural Resources evaluation deems current supply to be insufficient to sustain previously granted appropriations.

The bill also would deem a basin, subbasin or reach as overappropriated if current use creates a reduction significant enough to fall out of compliance with an interstate compact.

Lathrop said the current language does not take into account areas that are using more water than is sustainable.

“We can neither predict nor control the weather,” he said. “This addresses what we can control, which is adopting sustainable management practices.”

If an official evaluation results in a status change from fully appropriated to overappropriated, the department would be required to notify the relevant natural resources district (NRD) and implement temporary surface and ground water restrictions. The changes would remain in effect until a new integrated management plan could be adopted.

Mace Hack, state director of The Nature Conservancy of Nebraska, supported the bill, saying current consumption rates are unsustainable.

“Sustainable use of natural resources — especially water — should be the focus of our work in Nebraska,” he said. “We have a collective obligation to current and future generations to fix this problem.”

Ann Bleed of Lincoln also testified in support of the bill. She said current law cannot solve the problems faced by the state.

“We are fooling ourselves if we think the current law will do anything to maintain the sustainability of our water,” she said. “If we are really serious about trying to sustain our water supplies, we need to pass this bill.”

Jay Rempe, vice president of the Nebraska Farm Bureau, testified in opposition to the bill. He said the changes proposed in the bill would have questionable impact.

“The [current] process isn’t perfect, but we’ve come a long way in trying to address these integrated management issues,” he said, “and we’re not sure that [the changes] would get you any closer to resolving any of these issues.”

The committee took no immediate action on the bill.

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