Niobrara River water users complaining about the state of Nebraska shutting off some of their use of the river were turned back by a federal judge who said the state had the right and obligation to do what it did.
U.S. District Judge Lyle Strom said that 2007 order from the Nebraska Natural Resources Department fell within its proper jurisdiction. The 2007 order grew out of disputes over rights held by the Nebraska Public Power District; its decision that holders of rights junior to NPPD’s would have to quit using water, or reach an agreement (presumably financial) with the utility.
For a time the order led to a halt in pumping by some junior water users, but flows have increased since.
[see Kearney (NE) Hub, May 14]
The Niobrara River in Nebraska has been determined to be fully appropriated, barring any new applications for water rights.
The most immediate effect of that designation concerns a proposal at the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission to seek an in-stream flow on the river, which means a requirement that a certain amount of water be maintained in the river for fish, habitat and other environmental purposes. The river is also used for recreational purposes including rafting and canoeing.
A proposal to consider that request was on the agenda for the Game and Parks January 5 meeting, but has been removed.
Friends of the Niobrara President Mel Thornton said he was “disappointed” by the fully-appropriated designation. [see Lincoln (NW) Star-Journal, December 29]
For years disputes over the Republican River kept water attorneys in Nebraska busy. Now their attention is being directed as well to the Niobrara River, a stream whose management seemed to have been settled many years ago – except that some Nebraska water users are saying that the terms aren’t being honored.
A group of water users filed their lawsuit toward the end of September in Sioux County District Court in Nebraska, naming the state Department of Natural Resources Director Brian Dunnigan as defendant; they argued that he has not been enforcing the terms of a compact with Wyoming about water use and flows. Development in Wyoming, they argue, has impinged on use of the river on the Nebraska side.
That agreement, approved by the Nebraska legislature in 1963, calls “for an equitable division or apportionment of the available surface water supply of the Upper Niobrara River Basin between the States.”