Monday, March 28, 2005

Water War Won't End Anytime Soon

by Kyle Michaelis
As cities across the state, especially in the drought-ravaged West, unite in calling for increased representation on Nebraska's Water Policy Task Force, the Omaha World-Herald today did its best in an editorial to make their actions seem trivial and uninformed.
Sidney, Neb., officials have claimed that the task force is packed with irrigation interests to the detriment of municipal concerns. Indeed, many members (nearly 80%) of the 49-member task force are irrigators, answer to boards or agencies involved with irrigation in some way or have family members in those situations. Two of the five members who represent municipalities also are irrigation farmers.

However, the task force does not operate on a majority vote. Its decisions are governed by consensus. All 49 members must agree in order for a decision or recommendation to become official. One member can, for any reason, stop the process until his or her concern is addressed.

It is clear from the reports of some task force members and decisions reached that the group did operate fairly and equitably. Many members (including municipal representatives) used the consensus mechanism to resolve differences. Sidney officials' charge of bias or undue influence is without foundation.

Wow, the Omaha World-Herald is entirely off base in their reading of the situation. Don't they understand that consensus by people with the same interests and agenda means nothing. It is the MAKE-UP of the task force that is at issue, and consensus votes do NOTHING to address that.

Without a greater diversity of interests represented on this task force, both municipalities and other indrustries, it serves only to legitimize the very narrow irrigators' agenda. Without meaning to antagonize ag growers who rely on irrigation, their powerful and important voice needs balancing on the part of the 80%+ of Nebraskans who live within city limits.

Governor Heineman must act to address these concerns immediately before water problems exacerbate in the Western half ot the state and the little room for common ground we have on which to build vanishes. In fact, I think city councils in Eastern Nebraska, especially Omaha's and Lincoln's, should lend their support to this effort as a matter of good public policy, passing resolutions in the name of their own citizens standing with our water-deprived brothers and sisters to the West.

This state's water belongs to the people. No single industry should be setting public policy in regards to it. As McCook City Manager John Bingham was quoted in the World-Herald, responding to claims this was only a matter of local concern:
"Their time is coming. If the makeup of the task force doesn't change, a lot of people in this state will learn that this is not a Sidney issue."

He's right. Someting must be done. That the Omaha World-Herald and Governor's office don't see that says one of two things - either they simply don't understand the potential magnitude of this problem or they have unstated reasons for supporting this grossly inequitable status quo. Either way, the people must be heard on this issue. Our water must be protected, be it from short-sightendness, greed, or even lazy politicians that refuse to make a stand.

Read previous post on this issue:Water War Brewing

What we don't want to happen: Just Upstream of Omaha - North Dakota's Dry Wells


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