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Friday, May 24, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Neb. Must Pay Kan. $5.5 Million in Water Fight

WASHINGTON (CN) - The Supreme Court on Monday ordered Nebraska to pay $5.5 million for "knowingly" using more of its share than allowed from the Republican River.

A water compact in the 1930s allotted 49 percent of the Republican River's water to Nebraska, 40 percent to Kansas and 11 percent to Colorado, the Supreme Court wrote in its Feb. 24 opinion on Kansas v. Nebraska, et al .

The Republican River's 24,900-square-mile watershed provides water, mainly agricultural, for the three states.

Kansas complained directly to the Supreme Court in 1998 that thousands of groundwater pumps in Nebraska depleted stream flow in the Republican River Basin. A special master agreed, and the Supreme Court affirmed.

After the 2002 settlement, Kansas accused Nebraska of exceeding its share by 70,829 acre-feet. Again a special master agreed, and said Nebraska should pay Kansas $3.7 million for its water losses, and another $1.8 million for Nebraska's gains.

An acre-foot is enough water to cover 1 acre 1 foot deep. A four-person family uses about an acre foot of water a year in the United States.

Both states appealed the special master's ruling, Nebraska claiming that its excess use was not "knowing," and Kansas asking for more money.

The Supreme Court ruled 6-3 for Kansas on Feb. 24, with Justices Alito, Scalia and Thomas dissenting.

The March 9 ruling gives Nebraska 60 days to pay up.

The Supreme Court also ordered Kansas and Nebraska each to pay 40 percent of the special master's fees, and Colorado to pay 20 percent.

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