Omaha World Herald Editorial: Republican River negotiations the right way to settle things

Omaha World Herald Editorial: Republican River negotiations the right way to settle things

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

World­ Herald editorial Sep 4, 2016


It’s common for states to have major disagreements over rivers they share. But it’s often better to solve conflicts through constructive negotiation instead of waging a court fight that likely fails to settle the matter.

Florida has a river-related lawsuit against Georgia pending before the courts. The same goes for a lawsuit by the State of Texas against New Mexico.

Maybe the victors will be happy with the eventual outcomes. But they might find out what the State of Kansas discovered a few years ago.

Kansas sued Nebraska over water Kansas said it was owed for 2005-06 under the Republican River Compact from 1942. The case went to the U.S. Supreme Court, and Nebraska wound up paying $5.5 million to Kansas, well short of the $80 million Kansas originally sought.

The court action, decided through the work of a special master, left many matters unsettled. Fortunately it gave a push to the three compact states (Nebraska, Kansas and Colorado) to start discussions to iron out their ongoing disagreements.

Beginning in 2014, experts from the three states negotiated conscientiously and have now settled a series of issues through individual agreements and state actions. The tone of the dialogue has been constructive and professional.

Negotiators have focused all along on a key goal: crafting a long-term management strategy that provides needed flexibility in ensuring that each state receives its agreed-upon share of the water as it makes its way from Colorado through southwestern Nebraska and into Kansas.

Now that target has been reached: Gov. Pete Ricketts and his counterparts in Kansas and Colorado have signed a set of resolutions, the fruit of detailed, expert negotiations, that provides a science-based, mutually acceptable management plan for the long term.

The agreement “creates a new era of interstate water management in the basin where compact compliance is assured and achieved in a common-sense manner,” says Jasper Fanning, general manager of the Upper Republican Natural Resources District in southwestern Nebraska.

Jeff Fassett, director of the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources, told The World Herald’s Joe Duggan the agreement aims “to put more certainty and predictability into the system so our users can have some idea what the next year is going to look like.”

No one claims the agreement will end the water stresses that are unavoidable from time to time because of drought or other environmental changes. The point, rather, is that now Nebraska and its compact partners have a practical, agreed-upon strategy for addressing things equitably when challenges arise.

Just as Nebraska provides a national model through its system of natural resources districts, so this new three-state agreement has the potential to set an important example for other states. It’s a major step forward, worthy of celebration.