Nebraska and Colorado Are Fighting Over Water After 99 Years of Sharing Rights

Fearing development in Colorado, Nebraska plans canal to lay claim to water from South Platte River before its neighbor uses it up.

JULESBURG, Colo.—The South Platte River is the economic heart of this small town in the northeast corner of the Rocky Mountain state, feeding farmers’ crops and drawing hunters who shoot deer, snow geese and other waterfowl.

Soon it could run dry for nearly half the year because of a fight over a 99-year-old water-sharing compact between the states of Colorado and Nebraska that could end up in court.

Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts announced plans in January to build a canal into Colorado to drain water from the South Platte several miles upstream from Julesburg, which is allowed under a 1923 agreement between the states. The $500 million project, consisting of some 60 miles of canals and several reservoirs, would be one of the biggest nonfederal interstate water infrastructure projects in decades.

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