Last week Senator Groene of North Platte introduced LB 218 and LB 488 in the Natural Resources Committee. LB 218 would change the way N-CORPE, the “Nebraska Cooperative Republican Platte Enhancement”, project operates going forward. It would separate the ground water rights from the surface rights and require those acres to be sold in order to pay down the bond debts. The proceeds from a sale of the land would be applied in the following order: original land purchase debt, water well purchase and installation debt, and then to the public entity or entities in a joint agreement in equal sums. LB 218 would require the rights to use ground water for irrigation to revert back to the owner of the land where the water wells were installed, should the public entity no longer need to pump. Finally, this bill would allow the Department of Natural Resources to adopt the rules and regulations to carry out this act.
What is problematic about LB 218 is, in my opinion, the State of Nebraska owns all water rights and separating them from the surface rights opens a Pandora’s Box. Currently, the N-CORPE acres have been reseeded to native grass and are slowly being reclaimed by those native species. However, this grass is not yet suitable for grazing and therefore should be allowed more time to recover. It may take five to seven years before the grass is established enough to be sustainable. Once the grass is viable as range land again this could be a revenue stream for N-CORPE.
LB 488 would adopt the Water Conservation Grant Act. This bill would create an irrigated land retirement program and would authorize the Department of Natural Resources to accept applications for the water conservation grants. Also, it would authorize the department to award these grants in the amount of $50 per acre of eligible land until the annual limit of $3 million was met and would also exempt those acres from the occupation tax. My concern with this bill is that it diverts the $3 million to pay for LB 488 out of the Water Sustainability Fund.
The following day, the Natural Resources Committee heard LB 657 and LB 660 introduced by Senator Wayne of Omaha. LB 657 would require every retail electric supplier in the state to provide unbundled and transparent billing to all of their customers. Under this bill the Public Service Commission would be charged with enforcing the act.
LB 660 would remove a restriction on the sale or delivery of retail electricity by a private electric supplier. The Public Service Commission would establish criteria for retail electric competition in Nebraska, they would also be charged with adopting and promulgating rules and regulations necessary to carry out the purposes of the Nebraska Retail Electricity Choice Act. At the hearing, there was stiff opposition to both bills from a wide range of individuals representing the Nebraska Public Power industry, Nebraska manufacturing, and several individuals, all of whom did not feel Nebraska needs to change the way we are currently doing business. Each of these bills, according to a Public Service Commission estimate, will cost millions of dollars in additional fees just to implement on an annual basis.