Nebraska Natural Resources Commission restructuring advances

Senators gave first-round approval to a bill April 2 that would restructure the Nebraska Natural Resources Commission to create a greater emphasis on water sustainability.

LB1098, as originally introduced by Holdrege Sen. Tom Carlson, would have increased the commission’s membership from 16 to 27 by adding 11 governor-appointed members. Currently, three members are appointed by the governor and 13 are elected to represent river basins across the state.

Carlson said the Legislature must work to protect the state’s water resources.

“We have the most plentiful source of fresh water in the United States,” he said. “We must become water-sustainable in Nebraska to protect our people and protect our future as a state.”

A Natural Resources Committee amendment, adopted 31-1, replaced the bill. The amended bill would add 11 members to the commission, appointed by the governor, each representing the following interests:
• agribusiness;
• agriculture;
• ground water irrigators;
• irrigation districts;
• manufacturing;
• metropolitan utilities districts;
• municipal water users;
• outdoor recreation users;
• public power districts;
• range livestock owners;
• surface water irrigators; and
• wildlife conservation.

The amendment also would require that the Water Sustainability Fund be used to contribute to multiple water supply management goals, fund municipal sewer infrastructure projects, increase water productivity, enhance water quality and comply with interstate compacts or other agreements.

Funds would be distributed equitably throughout the state with no more than 10 percent dedicated annually to sewer infrastructure projects.

Under an amendment introduced by Omaha Sen. Steve Lathrop, basins including three or more natural resources districts operating under an integrated management plan would be required to develop a basin-wide plan for any areas with hydrologically connected water supplies.

Lathrop said local control is important, but that it is important for the Legislature to continually examine water policy.

“It’s difficult to establish statewide policy, given the differences between the basins,” he said. “We have a duty to oversee the policy as it relates to water just as we do education and roads.”

After extended debate, Carlson and Lathrop agreed that the bill required more work that could be done before the next round of debate. The amendment to the committee amendment was withdrawn, along with several amendments from other senators.

Senators advanced the bill to select file on a 34-0 vote.

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