Supreme Court orders Nebraska to compensate Kansas in water dispute

Supreme Court orders Nebraska to compensate Kansas in water dispute

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website] on Tuesday ordered [opinion, PDF] the state of Nebraska to pay Kansas $5.5 million, settling a long dispute [SCOTUSblog backgrounder] over water use from the Republican River. The river originates in Colorado, runs through Nebraska and ends in Kansas. In a compact [text, PDF] reached in 1943, 49 percent of the river’s water was allocated to Nebraska, while 40 percent was allocated to Kansas and 11 percent to Colorado. This agreement seemed to run smoothly until 1998, when Kansas began to complain that Nebraska was taking more than its allotted share of the water. According to Kansas attorneys, the suit was brought to uphold Kansas’ rights as a “downstream state” in order to ensure them water for future dry periods. Most of the $5.5 million will go to fund the court costs, while the remaining $1 million will reportedly go to the legislature. In addition to ordering Nebraska to pay and to uphold the terms of the compact, the court also ordered that changes be made to the formula used for measuring water consumption, which Nebraska argued was unfair.

The compact’s terms on water use have caused disputes over the years between the states. Following passage of a congressionally approved compact, the states initiated litigation leading to a 2003 settlement stipulation, the terms of which the Supreme Court reviewed [JURIST report] in October. During oral arguments [transcript, PDF] counsel for the state of Kansas argued that that Nebraska must comply with its compact obligations every year, including the years when water is scarce.