LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Colorado, Kansas and Nebraska have reached a new agreement in their longstanding conflict over water in the Republican River basin, the states announced Friday.
State leaders signed resolutions following monthly negotiations that stretched over two years. The resolutions are intended to provide greater flexibility and certainty for all water users in the region.
Nebraska and Kansas fought for decades over water entitlements provided under the Republican River Compact, an agreement between the two states and Colorado. The compact has triggered lawsuits among the states, as well as from local farmers who say they were cheated out of water they should have received.
“These resolutions represent a long-term strategy for representing each state and ultimately improving water management for water users,” said Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts.
The 1943 compact entitles Nebraska to 49 percent of the river’s water, while Kansas receives 40 percent and Colorado gets 11 percent. The Republican River originates in Colorado, crosses the northwestern tip of Kansas into Nebraska, then runs through Nebraska before re-entering Kansas in its northeastern corner.
In February 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered Nebraska to pay Kansas $5.5 million for using more water than it was entitled to in previous years. Nebraska officials hailed the decision, noting that the award was far less than the $80 million Kansas originally sought.
Shortly after the 2015 decision, Colorado, Kansas and Nebraska began looking for ways to cooperate more. At one point, the states struck a one-year agreement allowing Nebraska to pump more while ensuring that Kansas eventually gets the water it is due.
In a statement, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback said the agreement “will ultimately improve water management for water users” in all three states.
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper called the agreement “historic” and shows the states can resolve their issues without litigation.