The Natural Resources Committee heard testimony Feb. 13 on a bill that would create a task force to address the long-term sustainability of state water resources.
LB517, introduced by Holdrege Sen. Tom Carlson, would create a 15-member Water Sustainability Project Task Force. The task force would include four members from each congressional district and three at-large members. The director of the state Department of Natural Resources, the chairperson of the state Natural Resources Commission and the secretary of the Game and Parks Commission would serve as non-voting members.
Carlson said water is the most important natural resource in the state and proper management is necessary.
“We now know that our water supply is not unlimited,” he said. “We need sound management for water sustainability. If we don’t have that, we will have no economic sustainability.”
The bill would allocate $3 million for research, data collection and production of the final report, which the task force would submit to the Legislature by Jan. 31, 2014. The report would identify water resources programs, projects and activities in need of funding to meet the long-term statewide goals of water sustainability, efficiency and productivity including:
• research, data and modeling needed to assist the state in meeting its water management goals;
• rehabilitation or restoration of existing and new water supply infrastructure;
• conjunctive management, storage and integrated management of ground and surface water; and
• compliance with interstate compacts or agreements.
Michael Drain, representing the Central Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation District, supported the bill, saying the issue of water management is not a one-time problem.
“We have come to realize that we do not have a water problem to fix but a permanent water issue that always needs attention,” Drain said. “We need permanent funding from the state to continue to address these issues.”
Nebraska Farm Bureau vice president of government relations Jay Rempe also supported the bill. He said the 2012 drought was a perfect example of the necessity for water sustainability and management.
“If farmers had not been able to irrigate in Nebraska in 2012, it would have resulted in a loss of $11 billion in outputs and over 30,000 jobs,” he said.
Ron Yoder, associate vice chancellor of the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, testified in a neutral capacity. He offered his assistance in collecting relevant data and educating the public on the importance of water as a natural resource in the state.
The Water Sustainability Project Task Force would be terminated on Feb. 1, 2014.
No one testified in opposition to the bill and the committee took no immediate action on it.