Kansas-Nebraska water fight back before U.S. justices

Chris Rizo May 5, 2010, 2:41pm

Steve Six (D-Kan.)

Jon Bruning (R-Neb.)

TOPEKA, Kan. (Legal Newsline)- Kansas Attorney General Steve Six is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to find Nebraska in contempt of court for allegedly violating the terms of a 2003 settlement over water rights in the Republican River basin.

Six, a Democrat, said Tuesday that neighboring Nebraska is flouting the terms of the settlement to ensure Republican River Compact compliance and has failed to take actions to avoid future violations.

"Nebraska has failed to live up to the obligations under the compact, despite assurances given to the Supreme Court and our attempts to resolve this conflict through arbitration," Six said. "Kansas farmers and communities have been deprived of the water they rely upon in the past and will again under Nebraska's current policies. My office will continue this fight until Nebraska complies with our agreement."

In a February 2008letter to the Nebraska attorney general, Six, then Kansas's newly-sworn-in chief legal officer, threatened legal action over Nebraska's alleged noncompliance.

Kansas officials claim Nebraska is violating the 2003 decree and as a result owes monetary damages for using 78,960 acre-feet more Republican River water in 2005 and 2006 than the state was allocated.

Six said the Cornhusker State should be held in contempt of court and forced to pay Kansas for flouting the high court's decree that adopted the final settlement stipulation.

For his part, Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning said his state has complied with the agreement since 2006.

"We are working with local natural resources districts to ensure we stay in compliance. We are prepared to vigorously defend the state," added Bruning, president of the National Association of Attorneys General.

Last year, the arbitrator appointed to resolve the multistate water fight among Colorado, Kansas and Nebraska found that Nebraska has violated the decree.

Arbitrator Karl Dreher recommended in his nonbinding decision that Nebraska pay Kansas $10,000 in damages for overusing the Republican River's water. Additionally, Dreher rejected Nebraska's proposed changes to the way water allocations are calculated.

The ruling reduced Kansas' claim from $72 million, the Republican attorney general said.

The Republican River is a 24,900 square-mile basin that begins in Colorado and flows first into Kansas, then Nebraska and back into Kansas, where it meets the Smoky Hill River to form the Kansas River.

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