Tuesday, May 22, 2018
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Water task force submits recommendations

The Nebraska Water Funding Task Force, formed under Nebraska Legislative Bill (LB) 517, has submitted its recommendations to the Nebraska Legislature for a strategic, long-term funding plan for Nebraska’s water projects.

Gothenburg’s Chandler Mazour was a member of the task force.

As stated in LB 517, Nebraska’s water resources are finite and must be wisely managed to ensure their continued availability for beneficial use.

In 2004, conclusions reached by the Governor’s Water Policy Task Force led to the passage of LB 962 and set the stage for a water management policy based on sustainability.

The legislation has been a success, with one exception: it fell short due to lack of funding. LB 517 was developed to fill that gap. LB 517 was approved by Governor Heineman to establish a permanent, stable funding source to ensure that Nebraska’s water resources are managed effectively and efficiently.

Recommendations included in the report, which can be found at www.dnr.ne.gov/LB517, include creating a two-step application process for water projects, allocating an annual funding amount of $50 million and expanding the Natural Resources Commission to oversee the allocation of funds.

The Water Funding Task Force was created by the Nebraska Legislature in June 2013. The Task Force included 16 members of the Nebraska Natural Resources Commission, 11 citizens appointed by Governor Heineman, six state senators and the director of the Department of Natural Resources.

Task force members spent the last five months conducting education sessions and tours and holding public meetings across the state. During the tours, task force members gathered input and learned of the water issues and funding challenges facing water users in Nebraska.

The information gathered at the meetings helped the group prioritize the goals that led to the five recommendations. The task force reached consensus in early December and all 34 members support the recommendations presented in the report.

Task force members’ top priorities for water programs, projects and activities included the following:

Ensuring that water projects funded through the new Water Sustainability Fund demonstrate their ability to contribute to the goals of water sustainability for the state by protecting the ability of future generations to meet their needs through various methods. These include increasing aquifer recharge, reducing aquifer depletion, increasing stream flow and remediating threats to drinking water

Contributing to multiple water supply management goals, such as flood control, agricultural use, municipal and industrial uses, recreational benefits, wildlife habitat, conservation and preservation of water resources

Providing increased water productivity and enhancing water quality

Using the most cost-effective solutions available

Complying with compacts, decrees, and other state contracts and agreements

The task force recommended a mix of revenue sources that could include the following:

Removing the sales tax exemption from bottled water and/or soft drinks

Introducing or revising severance taxes (sand and gravel, oil and gas, uranium and trace elements)

Introducing an excise tax on ethanol and/or similar products

Introducing a fertilizer tax (both commercial and residential use)

Dedicating a portion of the existing sales tax (1/8¢) to water projects

Establishing a revolving fund for water sustainability projects

Senators on the task force plan to introduce legislation based on the task force recommendations in early 2014.

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