By Karen Morfitt

DENVER (CBS4) – The South Platte River is one of Colorado’s major resources, and the main source of water for eastern Colorado. At the center of recent controversy is a 100-year-old compact which Nebraska’s governor says allows them to build a canal through Colorado.

“One farmer may divert it and then part returns to the South Platte River and gets diverted again downstream and that can happen as many as seven times they say on the South Platte River,” Director of Colorado’s Division of Water Resources Kevin Rein said.

(credit: CBS)

The compact ensured a steady flow into our neighboring state, monitored at the state line.

“We have complied with that, and we would continue to comply with that,” Rein said.

Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts believes for at least a portion of the year Colorado has not complied.

“In the non-irrigation season, Colorado has not been providing us the water that is called for under the compact,” he said.

With no prior discussion, Ricketts now says the compact allows for the construction of canal from the river directly to Nebraska, including the power to buy land from Colorado landowners or gain access by invoking eminent domain.

(credit: CBS)

“We have the ability to enforce our rights under this compact. This compact gives the state of Nebraska authority over land and water in the state of Colorado,” Ricketts said.

Rein says right now there is now formal plan for this happening, but they are taking the announcement seriously.

“If we see some sort of proposal come to fruition, then we really need to take a close look at how that fits in with the compact,” Rein said.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Colorado Gov. Jared Polis said:

“The Governor just learned of this situation yesterday morning and we are working to understand it more thoroughly at this time including a legal and operational analysis. Gov. Polis will continue to fight for Colorado’s water rights and interests in interstate compacts and to oppose the diversion of precious water resources from Colorado.”

Karen Morfitt