Oral argument in the Supreme Court is set for October 14, 2014, in the case of Kansas v. Nebraska and Colorado, No. 126, Orig., a case which arose from a dispute over the allocation of water in the Republican River. Kansas filed suit seeking a remedy for Nebraska’s alleged breach of the 1943 Republican River Compact. The Republican River Compact was approved by Congress in 1943 as a way to apportion the water in the Republican River Basin between Kansas, Nebraska, and Colorado.
The Republican River rises in Colorado, crosses the northwestern tip of Kansas, and flows into Nebraska, then runs through Nebraska and re-enters Kansas in the north-central part of the state. The river and its tributaries measure approximately 430 miles long. The Republican River Basin includes active agricultural producing lands.
The Compact allocated an agreed-upon amount of the water in the Basin to each state. Kansas previously filed suit in 1999, claiming that because of the proliferation of thousands of wells connected to the Republican River and its tributaries, groundwater pumping had depleted the river’s flow. Kansas argued that the groundwater pumping in the wells equaled consumption under the Compact. Following the filing of the 1999 suit and a report made by a Special Master appointed by the Court, the parties entered into a settlement agreement over the allocation of the water.
In 2011, Kansas filed another Petition with the Court, claiming that Nebraska had violated the Compact and settlement. The courts below have determined that Nebraska has pumped too much water from the river, and that Nebraska should pay Kansas approximately $5.5 million.
The case is before the Court as a matter of original jurisdiction under the Constitution, which gives the Supreme Court the power to resolve disputes between states. The original jurisdiction procedure has been used frequently to resolve disputes between states over water rights, fishing boundaries, and occasionally other interstate issues such as pollution.
For a future report on the Supreme Court’s ruling, stay tuned to this blog, or contact Toni Ellington at (504) 599-8500.