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February 1, 2003

Sale of water to Colorado targeted

LINCOLN (AP) - Lawmakers are taking aim at an idea being floated by a company to ship Nebraska water to drought-stricken cities in Colorado and other states.

Homeland Hydra Options of Seedily, Colo., is considering drilling three water wells in the Sand Hills, at Ashby, Hyannis and Whitman. It then would ship about 7 million gallons of water a week by train to reservoirs in eastern Colorado, according to an early December letter to the State Natural Resources Department.

The Legislature's Natural Resources Committee heard testimony Friday on several bills that could thwart those plans.

One bill (Legislative Bill 527), by Sen. LeRoy Louden of Ellsworth, would place a fee of 25 cents a gallon for water sent to an area outside of a 55-mile radius of where it is pumped.

Anyone transporting water outside that area would be required to file a report with the Natural Resources Department, which would be required to monitor such wells.

"As a rancher . . . I'm quite concerned about the sale and transport of our groundwater," he said. "This year's drought has had such a drastic toll."

He emphasized that his bill was meant to restrict the selling of Nebraska's water, not encourage it.

"It is not a 'For Sale' sign," Louden said.

Another bill, (LB 183), by the committee, contains similar language but would assess a $50,000 fine against a well owner who fails to record how much water is being transferred out of state.

The 25-cents-a-gallon surcharge would mean the company would have to pay $1.75 million a week if it pumped 7 million gallons of water.

The state currently charges a one-time permit fee that ranges from just a few dollars to $1,500, depending on the water use.

Company President Robert Krumberger said the water pumped from Nebraska would be sold to Colorado cities such as Denver, Fort Collins and Greeley - areas hit hard by the drought.

Krumberger said his company also would market the water to drought-stricken areas in Wyoming, Utah and Nebraska.

The water could be used by cities, businesses and industry, including agriculture, Krumberger wrote.

Krumberger's proposal would need approval from Nebraska officials.

The drought has hit Nebraska so hard that new well-drilling has been banned in large areas of the southwest and west.

Former State Sen. Loran Schmit of Bellwood proposed 20 years ago that Nebraska stake a claim to its underground water and make some money off its sale.

The Colorado company would have to obtain state permits to drill wells and take the water away from the overlying land, said Susan France, division manager for water administration with the Natural Resources Department.

The department would take into account the water supplies available in Colorado, future water needs of Nebraska and whether the permit would interfere with current and future water uses.

The committee also discussed a third bill (LB 123), by Sen. Ed Schrock of Elm Creek, which would clarify and strengthen the authority of theNatural Resources Department to take actions to protect Nebraska's water.

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