Agricultural Economics Department


Date of this Version



Published in Cornhusker Economics, 8-20-08. Produced by the Cooperative Extension, Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Department of Agricultural Economics, University of Nebraska – Lincoln.


In Nebraska, surface water is most typically used for irrigation and recreation. Yet these same rivers and streams also sometimes provide valuable drinking water, both locally and in communities downstream in other states, especially in Kansas. Given the role that both ground and surface water play in sustaining and shaping the Nebraska way of life, it perhaps comes as no surprise that conflict and controversy often mar any attempt to regulate behaviors or change property rights in regard to the uses of this water. This is clearly evident in the case of the Republican River Compact, a case in which Kansas contends that Nebraska has failed to send enough water downstream in accordance with the orders of that compact.

While the conflict between Nebraska and Kansas over the Republican River rages on, a potential new disagreement may be starting to emerge between the two states regarding a different watershed. Namely, stake-holders in both Nebraska and Kansas are beginning to vocalize concerns over uses of the Big Blue River Watershed. Unlike the water quantity dispute over the Republican River, the emerging disagreement over the Blue River Watershed is mostly focused upon water quality concerns, albeit these issues are intertwined. At the center of this dispute is Tuttle Creek Lake, a reservoir created by a U.S. Army Corp of Engineer dam on the Big Blue River near Manhattan, Kansas. The concern is over the adequacy of the lake for providing water to users further downstream in places like Lawrence, Kansas and Kansas City.

The historical presumption in the watershed has been that farmers and others living upstream of Tuttle Creek Lake, in both Nebraska and Kansas, have had the privilege to allow chemicals and sediments to enter into rivers and streams that feed the lake. Upstream users have not been required to be concerned with downstream water users’ rights to clean water. In effect, the downstream water users historically had essentially no rights other than to accept substandard water quality, although the Federal Clean Water Act and various state legislative actions have been slowly changing this situation.