Public Policy Center, University of Nebraska


Date of this Version


Document Type



NEBRASKA POLICY CHOICES 1988, ed.Russell L. Smith (Omaha, NE: Center for Applied Urban Research, 1988).


Copyright © 1988 University of Nebraska Board of Regents.


Historically, western states have been free to prohibit water exports, and most states have done so. This changed abruptly in 1982, when the U.S. Supreme Court in its Sporhase decision invalidated Nebraska's groundwater export statute. After Sporhase, states could no longer simply prohibit the export of water, so the likelihood that water could be purchased or appropriated for export increased. In 1987 legislation was introduced to aggressively seek interstate buyers for Nebraska water. In the face of stormy opposition, the legislation was successfully recast as a study of water exports and transfers. The water exports study, however, contained the original premise: that selling Nebraska water is inevitable and could be a state financial bonanza. Analysis of the issue indicates it is not clear that selling Nebraska water is in the state's best interests, particularly if the sale proceeds are used to construct new irrigation projects, thus adding to surplus crop production.