Lavene: court rulings favorable for Republican Basin NRDs, NCORPE

■ Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of stories reporting on the water conference held in Imperial March 27.

    When it comes to Nebraska Supreme Court rulings on water issues lately, the high court has come down on the side of Republican Basin natural resources districts (NRDs), the state and NCORPE.
    Nebraska Deputy Attorney General Justin Lavene serves as the bureau chief for the newly created Agriculture Environment & Natural Resources Bureau in the Attorney General’s office.
    Lavene has been one of the lead attorneys for the state of Nebraska dealing with compact compliance issues with Kansas and lawsuits against the state, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and NRDs in the basin.
    Lavene appeared as one of the keynote speakers during the Upper Republican NRD’s second annual water conference March 27.
    Last year, Lavene talked about five lawsuits filed against the state and/or NRDs by surface water users in the basin.
    At this year’s water conference, he noted that the Nebraska Supreme Court dismissed two of the suits and days prior to the conference, another was dismissed voluntarily.
    Of course, one of last year’s key topics was the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Kansas vs. Nebraska.
    Since then, the two states have come together to work out agreements on water use in the basin beneficial to both states.
Takings claim
    In 2013 and 2014, Hill, et al., filed two class action suits on behalf of surface water users in the basin. They alleged  the state illegally took surface water for compact compliance that they had rights to.
    In May 2016, the district court dismissed the suits and the parties appealed the decision. On March 10 this year, the state’s Supreme Court affirmed the district court’s order of dismissal.
    During the March 27 conference, Lavene said the state and/or the NRDs still had three suits pending.
    A suit brought by Cappel Family Farms, et al., claimed the state’s compact compliance regulations on surface water deprived them of their property rights to the water without any due process.
    The district court dismissed that case in October 2016. However, that has also been appealed to the Nebraska Supreme Court.  Lavene said oral arguments could take place this coming May.

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