DeKay tabs LB768 as priority bill


March 23, 2023

The legislature is now halfway through the current Legislative session. Public hearings were held this past week on two bills that I introduced in the Appropriations Committee. As amended, LB 766 would appropriate $1.625 million annually in American Rescue Plan Act dollars, over the next two fiscal years, to the Department of Environment and Energy as a follow-up to the reverse osmosis grant program created by the legislature with last year's LB 1014.

Under LB 766, NDEE would award a grant to any individual to install reverse osmosis systems if a test result finds nitrates in the person's drinking water pumped from one or more of such person's private wells is above ten parts per million. I introduced this bill to help address access to clean drinking water, especially with the nitrate issues impacting many parts of the state. This bill would provide a short-term solution for nitrates, while the legislature and other stakeholders work to create longer-term solutions.

LB 768 asks for a one-time transfer of $30 million from the Cash Reserve Fund to the Infrastructure Facilities Cash Fund in the Department of Natural Resources to fund a critical – and growing – concern for access to safe water for the residents, farmers and tourists in our rural district in northeast Nebraska. The Cedar-Knox Rural Water Project is overseen by the Lewis and Clark Natural Resources District and serves more than 7,000 users, including those in two sanitary improvement districts, three housing developments, five campgrounds and four communities – Crofton, Fordyce, St. Helena, and Obert. This regional system treats surface water from the Lewis and Clark Lake. However, the intake structure is expected to be inundated by sediment over the course of 20 years and the approaching sediment is causing an increase in organic material drawn into the intake that must be treated. Furthermore, the production capacity of the treatment plant and portions of the distribution system are at, or near, the maximum sustainable levels.

Former Sen. Gragert was able to obtain $7 million in ARPA funding for the Cedar-Knox RWP through a successful amendment to LB 1014 last year.

This money helped get the project off the ground. I am seeking additional funding to complete the final testing and actual construction. The Lewis and Clark NRD has spent considerable time and effort to study multiple options and perform testing, with more work still needing to be completed in the coming months. I am hopeful that from these efforts, a proposal can be found that meets the needs of existing users, factors in potential growth on the system and holds harmless non-users should a groundwater source be selected moving forward.

When I ran for the legislature, water quality was one of my top priorities. I emphasized to senators the importance of having an adequate drinking water supply, not just for increased agricultural production, but for economic viability, long-term food security and quality of life. If another flooding event like 2019 happens or the intakes silt in, the entire system is at risk of not being able to supply all the connections, potentially leaving thousands without adequate drinking water. The high rates water users pay, viability of investments in the STAR WARS projects along the Lewis and Clark Lake and inadequate water pressure and fire-fighting facilities to contain wildfires in the area are additional concerns. For these reasons, I have designated LB 768 as my personal priority bill for the year.

I welcome your thoughts, comments and ideas. Feel free to call my office anytime to 402-471-2801 or email me at [email protected]. My mailing address is: Senator Barry DeKay, District #40, P.O. Box 94604, State Capitol, Lincoln, NE 68509.


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