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Nebraska lawmakers took a positive step this year in an effort to protect, preserve and better manage the use of one of our state’s most valuable resources.

No matter where you reside or what you do for a living, water is the lifeblood of Nebraska. From the streets and sewer lines of Omaha to irrigated cornfields to the Republican River Valley and everywhere in between, it is a necessity of life, as well as a source of political controversy. We are blessed to have an abundant Ogallala Aquifer underfoot, but historically have not addressed water sustainability from a statewide perspective -- until now.

When LB 1098 was signed into law, it earmarked $32 million for a Water Sustainability Fund that is long overdue. State policy makers have talked for years about the need to address all kinds of water issues, but typically stopped short of committing the financial resources needed to do the job. That was perhaps due, in part, to the fact that there were and are so many varied interests in how Nebraska’s precious water is used.

Farmers contend, and rightly so, that the state’s No. 1 industry should be a priority when it comes to water use, though even in that sector there are varied interests between groundwater and surface water users. When you factor in domestic uses, municipalities, industrial uses, flood control concerns, outdoor recreation and wildlife conservation, it’s easy to understand why unanimous support for any water policy has been hard to find.

On that note, however, the final vote on LB 1098 was 48-0, which spoke volumes. In other words, though there may be significant diversity of water users, lawmakers recognized a shared and vested interest in better managing water use as a whole.

This new law creates a mechanism to help fund that effort, though it will be a challenge going forward. Toward that end, the Natural Resources Commission will be expanded from 16 to 27 members, inviting more stakeholders to the table as the real work begins to address water policy on various fronts.

We applaud the Legislature for taking this bold step. Creating a new Water Sustainability Fund and bringing more voices to the table will not in of itself lead to immediate solutions, but it is a significant step in the right direction.

Kurt Johnson

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