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Surface Water Home

Since 1895, Nebraska has had an administrative system overseeing the orderly use of the State’s surface water resources. All diversions of surface water for irrigation, hydropower, industrial use, municipal use, domestic use, storage and other uses require a State permit. The Nebraska Department of Natural Resources is the State agency authorized by Nebraska statutes to issue surface water permits, called appropriations. More recently, authority of the Department was broadened to include issuing permits for instream uses for recreation; fish and wildlife; induced ground water recharge for public water suppliers; and diversions by ground water irrigation wells located within 50 feet of the bank of the channel. Each permit has certain responsibilities, limitations and conditions associated with it.

The Department has jurisdiction over all matters pertaining to surface water, rights for storage, irrigation, power, manufacturing, instream flows and other beneficial uses. This includes the distribution of available supply during times of water shortages and adjudication of established water rights. The activity of distributing the supply of surface water on a stream during shortages is called “water administration”.  As indicated above, any person who wishes to divert and use the waters of a natural stream or lake must first get a permit or water right from the Department.

Holders of water rights must use the water in accordance with the provisions written on the permit. Failure to so use the water will result in the Department conducting a hearing to cancel or annul the permit. This process is called an "adjudication" and is subject to review by the Nebraska Court of Appeals.