Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts. AP file photo.

Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts. AP file photo.

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts announced a $500 million plan Monday to divert water out of Colorado under a 99-year-old compact between the states that allows Nebraska to seize access to Colorado land along the South Platte River and build canals.

Ricketts said Nebraska would invoke its rights under the South Platte River Compact amid concerns that Colorado’s plans for the river could reduce water flows into his state by as much as 90%, taking a potentially huge toll on Nebraska’s agricultural and power industries and likely affecting water supplies in the state’s two largest cities, Omaha and Lincoln.

“We are very concerned about what is going to happen with these projects,” Ricketts, a Republican, said at a news conference. The reduced streamflows “are going to have a dramatic impact on our ability to feed the world.”

The compact, approved in 1923, is a water-sharing agreement between the states that entitles Nebraska to 120 cubic feet per second (897.6 gallons) from the river during the irrigation season between April 1 and Oct. 15, and 500 cubic feet per second (3,740 gallons) during the non-irrigation season.

Under the compact, Nebraska can build, maintain and operate canals within Colorado’s borders that divert water from the South Platte River for use by Nebraska. It also gives Nebraska the power to buy land from Colorado landowners or gain access by invoking eminent domain. Nebraska’s move is likely to trigger lawsuits between the states.

Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson, a Republican, said Colorado has been issuing water usage permits that would cut into Nebraska’s rightful share.

“It’s critical that we be able to maintain these flows,” Peterson said.

Colorado released a report this month that identified 282 new projects within the South Platte River Basin on their side of the border, at a total cost of $9.87 billion.

According to the report, the Colorado population living within the river basin is expected to grow 42% to 70% between 2015 and 2050, creating more demand for water. The report also warned that climate change may reduce streamflows and shift snowmelt patterns to earlier in the year, while creating greater agricultural demand for water.

A spokesman for Colorado’s Department of Natural Resources said he needed to consult with his state’s engineer before issuing a response. An email to the office of Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, a Democrat, wasn’t immediately returned.

The South Platte River flows northeast from Colorado’s fast-growing Front Range and into Nebraska, where it merges with the North Platte River to form the Platte River before crossing the rest of the state.

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