Colorado and Nebraska are in a Water Fight

America is running out of water, and I wish that was an exaggeration.

As the Hoover Dam reaches its lowest level in years and the Southwest worries about having enough water for crops, a drama is currently playing out between Nebraska and Colorado.

The two states are locked in a disagreement about who owns water from the South Platte River in Colorado; now, Nebraska’s Republican Governor Pete Ricketts is about to reach out and take it.

Here’s how.

Ricketts Reaches Out to Take Colorado’s Water

Eminent domain is a legal principle that exists when you need land for the good of citizens. Nebraska wants to use it to scoop up land from Colorado and build a big canal to divert more water into its territory.

As for the right to take the water itself? Ricketts says there is a century-old deal between Colorado and Nebraska that lets him take their water from the South Platte.

The deal was signed in 1923; the reason Ricketts wants to use it now is Colorado is building up hundreds of dams and projects along the South Platte that are going to get in the way of Nebraska’s water supply.

According to Ricketts, these cuts will reduce Nebraska’s incoming water by “90%” and have a “dramatic” negative effect on the Cornhusker state.

He said it will be particularly bad for Nebraska’s “ranchers” and others who need a large amount of water to run their businesses.

How Will Nebraska Take the Water?

Under the 1923 deal, you are allowed to use eminent domain if there’s a good reason. Considering Nebraska farmers and the whole economy are in danger if they don’t get more water, that certainly sounds like a legitimate reason.

In addition, the big amount of dams and projects that Colorado is building on the South Platte will cut directly into the water supply of Lincoln and Omaha. Protecting the residents of your state’s two main cities definitely sounds justified.

Ricketts plans to build a large canal to get water out of the South Platte River from its Colorado areas and bring it into Nebraska. Ricketts is reserving the right to also build parts of the canal on Colorado land as necessary under the 1923 deal.

Nebraska actually started a Canal in the mid-1890s, but it ran out of money and didn’t end up getting built. This new canal would come with a price tag of about half a billion; one issue is it’s not clear where this funding would be taken from.

Colorado’s Democrat Governor Responds

Colorado’s Democrat Governor Jared Polis has not personally talked with Ricketts, but he’s given a typically mixed message in his comments about the project.

While he said he respects Nebraska’s position and will honor the 1923 agreement, Polis also said a “rigorous” assessment would have to be done of any projects on the Nebraska side involving the South Platte.

Polis’ office said he will “fight” for their “water rights,” and is not in favor of taking away or diverting any water from their rivers.