Ricketts Signs Bills For Colorado Canal, New Lake Between Lincoln And Omaha


     Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts on Monday signed two bills that start the process for two major water projects that may never be built and won’t be finished for several years if they do move forward.

       One bill authorizes $200-million dollars for multiple projects: a new marina at Lake McConaughy, an expanded marina at Lewis and Clark Lake on the Missouri River, a lodge at Niobrara State Park, and a new lake between Lincoln and Omaha. 

     The new lake could cost up to a billion dollars with Speaker of the Unicameral Mike Hilgers saying 90% of the cost would be privately funded. The bill signed Monday has $20-million dollars for feasibility studies that Hilgers says will take 2 to 3 years.

The other bill allows Nebraska to move forward with plans to build a canal in Colorado to divert water out of the South Platte River into reservoirs in Nebraska.

      The canal is estimated to cost half-a-billion dollars, but the bill includes only $53.5-million – $22.5-million for feasibility studies and the rest for options on possible land purchases but not for land itself. 

     In signing the bill, Governor Ricketts warned supporters that even if the feasibility studies are favorable, construction will probably take 8 to 10 years.

       Nebraska is basing the canal on a provision in a 1923 compact between Nebraska and Colorado for the South Platte River.

       Ricketts and other supporters say the project is needed to keep the Colorado Front Range from drawing off water outside the irrigation season that is supposed to be available to Nebraska. 

     Colorado officials, led by Governor Jared Polis, have criticized the canal project, questioning the need for it.