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COLUMBUS — Conservation along Nebraska streams and rivers has become a priority as the state wages so-called “water wars” with its neighbors.

In no area has this become more evident than the Republican River Basin, where a Kansas-Nebraska battle over water flows could significantly impact irrigators.

Robert Heinz, Dawson Public Power District general manager, was at the Nebraska Public Power District (NPPD) Board meeting Friday to introduce a new non-profit organization whose goal is developing a long-term plan for sustainability of water flows not only along the Republican, but throughout Nebraska.

Nebraska Water Balance Alliance was formed about a month ago, and includes the 35 rural electric utilities that belong to Nebraska Rural Electric Association.

Heinz said now, during a period of non-drought, is the time for public power districts, producers and natural resource districts to collaboratively research ways to keep water supplies flowing adequately.

His concern is that producers, who use rivers such as the Republican to supply irrigation wells, would be negatively affected if restrictions such as those requested by Kansas are imposed. These cutbacks could shut off as many as 40 percent of the Nebraska wells along the Republican River to ensure compliance with the 1943 Republican River Compact.

“The real impact is on the producers,” said Heinz, so producers should also be part of the solution.

By definition, Heinz said, irrigation comprises 67 percent of the state’s water usage, but because this water can be reused, he contends it only accounts for about 9 percent of consumption. About 84 percent of water consumption can be attributed to native vegetation, evaporation, dryland crop usage, invasive species and flow out of the state, according to Heinz.

Still, most of the regulation is on irrigators.

Heinz sought NPPD’s participation in the alliance Friday, but because he was not on the agenda a board vote couldn’t occur.

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