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Treatment of surface, groundwater users not equal PDF Print E-mail
Written by Wauneta Breeze   
Wednesday, 26 February 2014 22:27

Letter Back Home

By Sen. Mark Christensen


Last week, the Legislature passed the halfway mark of this year’s short session. This week is the last week of public hearings for bills introduced in January, so we will begin all-day debate around March 4.

Last week I had a hearing for another one of my bills, LB 1111. This bill is a very controversial bill that lays out a proposed 10-year plan to reach water sustainability in areas that are levying an occupation tax on the activity on irrigation.

LB 1111 is an illustration of what can be done to ease the pain of Sen. Lathrop’s LB 1074 if it were to pass. That bill would allow for the reevaluation of the appropriation status of fully and over appropriated areas, like the Republican River Basin and portions of the Platte River Basin, by sound science instead of by designation.

If LB 1074 would move forward, it would most likely be tied to the funding bill that resulted from the Water Funding Task Force that also restructures the Natural Resources Commission.

Let me give you a little background history related to LB 1074 and LB 1111. Nebraska Association of Resources Districts (NARD) voted to be neutral on my bill LB 522, from last session, that would have provided financial assistance for surface water (SW) irrigators who had all or a portion of their water taken from them for compact compliance by the state.

NARD did testify neutral, but then lobbied behind the scenes to kill LB522 because of a lawsuit by irrigation districts. This was happening while Speaker Adams held several meetings with both ground water (GW) users and SW users in hopes to reach a compromise.

Sen. Lanthrop had interest in this water issue and attended the meetings set up by Speaker Adams. He also toured our district visiting both GW and SW facilities throughout the area. From this investigation into the disagreement on LB 522, he decided to draft LB 1074 this year that would remove the statutory designations of fully and over appropriated areas to allow the reevaluation of the basin.

District 44, my district, is split on whether they like or dislike LB 1074. I represent both groups from the Colorado border to the east boundary of Gosper County. The majority of SW users in the Republican River Basin received 0-3 inches of water in 2013 and are expected to receive that same amount for 2014. These SW users went from approximately 10 inches to 0-3 inches in one year.

Let me give you an example of what I see as bad Nebraska water policy.

Harry Strunk Lake fills every year. The state designated 2013 and 2014 compact call years for compliance purposes. This is done through the integrated management plans adopted by NRDs and the Department of Natural Resources. Because of the compact call, SW irrigator’s water was passed through the dam in 2013 and 2014. This reduces SW to 0-3 inches while allowing GW users to pump 10-14 inches. SW continues to pay the same occupation taxes for irrigating the small amount of water, with no compensation for their water used for compliance.

LB 1111 is an alternative plan to address the unequal treatment between SW and GW during a compact call year, since NRDs don’t want to compensate SW users for their water that was taken to meet compliance.

NRDs say that LB 1074 and LB 1111 would economically devastate the basin. What about the economic impact to the SW irrigator’s operation when they go from 10 inches to 0-3 inches in one year?

Yet, NRDs are complaining about LB 1111’s small incremental reduction of 10 percent of the needed reduction per year for 10 years to reach district and basin sustainability.

I have to represent my whole district. Should I try and find a way that requires shared sacrifice during a compact call year; or, should one side get all the water, while the other bears the burden for the sake of convenience without compensation.

My approach in 2013 was LB 522 that would have given SW users some compensation for the water taken by the state, while allowing GW users to keep pumping. However, like I said earlier, the NRDs through NARD did not support my idea and lobbied against it, not remaining neutral as their organization voted.

If you were me, how would you vote?


Weekly call

In committee action, the Medicaid expansion bill, LB 887, advanced out of committee on a 5-1 vote.

Christensen said Grand Island Sen. Mike Gloor opposed a similar bill last year but now supports the bill this year.

Christensen said he likes one aspect of the bill—a provision that would require a $75 co-pay on emergency room visits that are for non-emergency treatment or chronic disease management.

Over time, Christensen said this will reduce ER visits when a co-payment is involved.

Christensen got another bill out of committee Monday, LB 993.

The bill would exempt Health Care Sharing Ministries from Nebraska’s insurance laws. It would define a “health care sharing ministry” as a faith-based, non- profit organization that is tax-exempt under the Internal Revenue Code.

Christensen said this is part of the Affordable Care Act so this would bring the state in line with the act.

A bill heard in committee would mandate a 180-day waiting period before a transfer student could become eligible for high school sports. It would also address sports success due to transfer students through a rating system.

Christensen said the bill won’t go anywhere this year but has prompted the Nebraska School Activities Association to address issue in the near future.

Christensen said backers of a bill to fund water projects with $50 million from the general fund will try to get the amount added to the budget.

He said getting the measure as part of the budget could make it easier to get passed versus a floor debate on the bill.

However, he said the governor does not support the water funds, so a line item veto in the budget could occur.

An education bill introduced and prioritized by Sen. Jim Scheer of Norfolk has drawn concern from smaller school districts.

The bill, LB 682, would require all school districts with less than 650 students to join at least three other school districts governed by this act to create an alliance with no less than 1300 students.

Every school alliance would then agree to a uniform bell and calendar schedule. LB 682 will enable small school districts to innovate using modern technology to expand course offerings and educational opportunities for students.

Christensen said many schools in the Mid-Plains Community College region already utilize services provided by the college and feels this bill could hamper those efforts.


SEN. MARK CHRISTENSEN’s address is c/o State Capitol, P.O. Box 94604, Rm. 1000, Lincoln, NE 68509, Phone 402-471-2805, email: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .


Last Updated on Wednesday, 26 February 2014 22:29