'Potential for a lawsuit': State leaders clash over $567M canal project

'Potential for a lawsuit': State leaders clash over $567M canal project

Friday, December 30, 2022

Engineers finish evaluating Perkins County Canal Project


The fight for water between Nebraska and Colorado is also dividing state leaders.

The Perkins County Canal Project would divert water from the South Platte River into Nebraska as Colorado continues to grow and desire more water. Engineers published their evaluation of the project.

"Colorado has stated its intent to capture and use Nebraska's supplies," a summary of the 197-page evaluation said. "Failure to build the Project will forfeit Nebraska's South Platte River water supplies that are used to fuel approximately $700 million in benefits for Nebraska's economy. This analysis demonstrates that building the Project is cost effective."

The state senator in charge of the Legislature's appropriations committee is standing in a stream of support carried by Gov. Pete Ricketts and Gov.-elect Jim Pillen. Sen. John Stinner says the project carries a lot of potential for a lawsuit with Colorado.

"$500 million is not the right number," Sen. Stinner said. "Number one, it's going to be more costly than that. Number two is, I think it's one of the larger outlays that the state taxpayers have to go through. And I think it's a colossal waste of money."

The evaluation report says Nebraska has the right to build a canal, based on a century-old agreement with Colorado from 1923.

Gov. Ricketts said in a statement on Friday, "The study evaluating the Perkins County Canal and its alternatives affirms what many Nebraskans have come to know: We must construct the canal to secure our water resources along the South Platte River. Failure to do so will forfeit our water rights and jeopardize our economy at a scale outweighing the costs of its construction. I look forward to seeing this project move forward."

Gov.-elect Pillen said in a statement on Friday, "I agree with the evaluation that the Perkins Canal will provide incredible value to Nebraska, and support continuing the project to make sure we keep every drop of water in our state that we are legally entitled to."

Engineers say it'll take 11 years of construction to build such a canal, but Sen. Stinner says the federal government and Army Corps of Engineers would likely drag out the timeline.

"I just think there's other pressing priorities in the state of Nebraska," Sen. Stinner said.

The next session at the Legislature starts on Jan. 4.

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