A dispute between Nebraska and Kansas over use of water flowing from the Republican River is now in the hands of the United States Supreme Court.
Attorney General Jon Bruning is confident the Supreme Court will validate the decision reached by a special master it appointed, who rejected Kansas’ claim Nebraska owed it $80 million and reduced it to $5.5 million.
“There’s no certainties in this,” Bruning tells Nebraska Radio Network in a telephone interview shortly after oral arguments before the court. “The justices, they ask questions on both sides of the issue. At one point, you’re certain Justice A or B is on your side and then they ask another question and you think, well, they’re on the other side.”
Kansas has reduced the compensation it claims Nebraska owes in briefs filed with the court. Kansas now asks that Nebraska pay it $25 million for the over-use of the Republican River by Nebraska farmers and ranchers in 2005 and 2006.
Bruning says he holds out hope that not only will the court reject the $25 million dollars requested, but will even lop off $1.8 million from the $5.5 million suggested by the special master. That was added as a penalty to the settlement.
A second issue is at play.
Nebraska wants to change the accounting method used to allocate water from the Republican River. Kansas has argued that it never would have agreed to the 2002 settlement with Nebraska if that method were used.
Bruning is less confident Nebraska will win on that issue.
A compact Congress approved in 1943 allocates 49% of the Republican River to Nebraska; 40% to Kansas and 11%.
Bruning points out water use is vital both for irrigation of crops and watering of livestock; in other words, vital to Nebraska’s number one industry.
“It’s certainly high-stakes stuff and we’re going to defend our producers who have done so much to modify their usage and reduce their usage of water.”
AUDIO: Brent Martin reports [:50]