Ricketts Signs Canal, Lake Legislation

April 18, 2022, 3:45 p.m. ·

Governor Pete Ricketts discusses water legislation Monday (Photo by Fred Knapp, Nebraska Public Media News)
Gov. Pete Ricketts discusses water legislation Monday (Photo by Fred Knapp, Nebraska Public Media News)

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Gov. Pete Ricketts on Monday signed two pieces of legislation for major water projects that could take years to complete.

One bill Ricketts signed authorizes the Department of Natural Resources to develop and operate a canal to bring water from the South Platte River in Colorado into Nebraska. The other authorizes a new marina at Lake McConaughy near Ogallala, an expanded marina at Lewis and Clark Lake along the Missouri River in northeast Nebraska, a lodge at nearby Niobrara State Park, and a possible lake between Lincoln and Omaha.

Ricketts predicted the canal from Colorado would take some time to get built.

“We expect that would probably take eight to ten years to get done,” Ricketts said.

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis has criticized the proposal, which is based on a 1923 compact between the states. The Legislature this year appropriated $53.5 million toward the project, which is expected to cost more than half a billion dollars. About $22.5 million of the money is for a cost-benefit study, with the rest for options on possible land purchases, but not land itself.

Reacting to Monday's bill signing, Polis's press secretary Conor Cahill said, “This is still a canal to nowhere, a political stunt, and a waste of taxpayers dollars and this misguided decision continues to threaten the private land of hardworking farmers and ranchers without being able to get any more water for Nebraska or Colorado. Total waste.”

Regarding the lake between Lincoln and Omaha, Speaker of the Legislature Mike Hilgers said some time would be needed for feasibility studies.

“We were projecting two to three years to get all the studies done…We should know by then if this is feasible and all the major boxes that still need to be checked – the hydrology study, the opportunity to get private investment in land acquisition, among others, (the) environmental study -- whether those all come up the right way,” Hilgers said.

The Legislature appropriated $20 million for those studies. Hilgers has said more than 90 percent of what could be a $1 billion project would be privately funded if it moves forward.