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Colorado plans to defend water rights after Ricketts proposal for South Platte River

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Colorado Gov. Jared Polis said Wednesday that his state would work to protect its water rights in light of Nebraska’s proposal to build a canal in his state to pull water from the South Platte River.

In a statement, Polis said Colorado would “protect and aggressively assert Colorado’s rights under all existing water compacts.”

Water use in the South Platte River is regulated through an interstate agreement called a compact.

This week, Ricketts announced that he would seek $500 million from the Nebraska Legislature to build a canal that would bring water from the South Platte in Colorado into Nebraska.

Thursday, Ricketts proposed using $400 million in cash reserve funds and $100 million in federal coronavirus relief funding to construct the canal and reservoir system.

The South Platte enters Nebraska from Colorado along Interstate 76 and flows east to where it meets the North Platte River east of the town of North Platte to form the Platte.

Ricketts said the canal is needed because Colorado is planning “nearly 300 projects and over $10 billion of expenditures to ensure no ‘excess’ water leaves its state.”

If those proposals are carried out, Ricketts estimates there would be a 90% reduction in flows coming into Nebraska.

Polis said Ricketts’ comments reflect a “misunderstanding of Colorado’s locally driven water planning projects.”

Polis said Colorado has used roundtable discussions to generate grassroots ideas for solutions to Colorado’s water needs. These brainstorming ideas “should not be taken as formally approved projects.”

“We hope to more fully understand Nebraska’s concerns and goals, as so far as those concerns and goals are quite simply hard to make sense of,” Polis said in the statement.

Colorado, he said, has complied with the South Platte Compact for its 99 years and continues to respect the agreement. “We hope that our partners in Nebraska will show they share that respect.”

In response, Ricketts issued a statement saying he “welcomes future conversations with Gov. Polis as we move forward to secure Nebraska’s access to water.”

Any project involving U.S. waterways typically faces rigorous scrutiny. Polis said any project by Nebraska in Colorado would have to comply with the compact, private property rights, state and federal laws and regulations, including environmental ones.


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Nancy Gaarder helps cover public safety and weather events as an editor on The World-Herald's breaking news desk. Follow her on Twitter @gaarder. Email:

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