Water Administration


Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What does Water Administration mean?

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. 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.

I don’t have enough water to irrigate.  How do I request water administration?

The Nebraska Department of Natural Resources administers surface water appropriations in accordance with the priority and limitations of the rights granted.  Call your local field office to request water administration.  Before any other appropriation can be closed for the benefit of another appropriation, NeDNR staff needs to measure and verify that there is not enough water to satisfy the need of the appropriation requesting administration.

What is the Water Rights Adjudication process?

Nebraska applies the “use it or lose it” principle to surface water rights. Persons who have surface water appropriations must use the water for the purpose specified in the appropriation permit at least every five years.  Failure to do will result in the Department conducting a hearing to cancel or annul the permit. This process is called ”adjudication" and is subject to review by the Nebraska Court of Appeals.  Learn more about the Water Rights Adjudication process.

Where can I find information about my water right?


How do I apply for a water right?

Surface Water Forms

Where can I find Nebraska State Statutes?


How much water is in the river?

The Nebraska Department of Natural Resources is authorized to measure and monitor the water flowing in Nebraska’s streams, rivers, and canals. For this purpose, the Department has established a Streamgaging Program operated within the Water Administration Division, and through this program the Department operates and maintains a streamgaging network comprised of more than 250 gaging sites. The network includes continuous stream and reservoir gages, partial year gages, canal gages, canal return flow gages.  Current streamflow conditions across the Nebraska can be observed through the following link.  https://nednr.aquaticinformatics.net/ This site includes the streamgaging stations operated by the Department and provides links to stations operated by the USGS and others.

What is a surface water permit?

A surface water “permit” is a general term for a water appropriation that has been granted by the State of Nebraska for the diversion of surface water for irrigation, hydropower, industrial use, municipal use, domestic use, storage and other uses as approved by authority the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources (Department) . Authority of the DNR also includes 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 conditions which may include limitations to the amount of use, location of use, time of use, or other conditions specified by DNR.   Surface water permits are commonly referred to as appropriations or water rights and typically attach to the land.

How do I get a surface water permit?

  • An application to obtain a surface water permit may be made by any person intending to appropriate the public waters of the State of Nebraska. Forms prescribed and furnished by the Department.
  • An application for a new surface water permit cannot be filed in a river basin which has been declared fully or over appropriated by the Department until a variance petition is granted by the Department.   Approval of new surface water irrigated acres may be further limited by controls adopted though integrated water management planning in cooperation with local Natural Resources Districts.   More information on integrated water management planning and the designation of fully and over appropriated basins is provided by the Water Planning Division.
  • Online filing for a new surface water permit is not available at this time.

Do I have a surface water permit? or Where is my surface water permit?

  • If you are unsure if you hold a surface water permit, information regarding active surface water permits may be found here.
    The data retrieval site allows the user to search by several criteria including: owner name, legal description (PLSS), source of water etc.
  • A map search for permits is located here: Surface Water Map
  • To obtain additional information on your surface water permit such as copies of approved orders or project maps contacting the Department at the following:

Department of Natural Resources
Lincoln Office (Main)

245 Fallbrook Blvd., Suite 201
Lincoln, NE 68521
(402) 471-2363

How do I change or update my surface water permit?

  • If you wish to change or update ownership of a surface water permit a Notice of Change of Ownership (DNR form COO-1) must be filed in the Department.  There is no cost for updating ownership and the form can be found here.  Generally speaking, a surface water permit is held in the name of the landowner and Department records of surface permit ownership should be updated to reflect a sale of the  appurtenant land.
  • If you wish to change the location of use of your surface water permit an application to transfer the location of use can be filed by the landowner of the tract(s) that are appurtenant to the permit.  There is no guarantee a transfer will be approved and any approved transfer would be conditioned not harm another appropriator.   Unperfected (new and unused) appropriations may not be transferred.  If an appropriation (or part) is subject to cancellation for nonuse, a transfer may not be granted.  If it has been more than 5 years since the water appropriation was used there may be no transferable amount of water. 

Do I need a surface water permit?

Any diversion surface water from a natural stream, channel, canal, ditch, or reservoir most likely requires a surface water permit.   Permits may be granted on a temporary basis if the diversion is to occur for no more than one calendar year.  If you are storing water in a reservoir, a permit to impound surface water is required except when storing less than 15 acre-feet of surface water per annum and the impounded water is not diverted for any irrigation or any other purpose.  Further exceptions are made for waste lagoons and described in Neb. Rev. Stat 46-241.

What are the fees for getting a surface water permit?

The cost of filing an application for a new surface water permit varies by use but is generally between $10 and $200.  The associated fee can be found on the application form.  Transfers and petitions to change an existing permit generally cost $10, however, the applicant may incur additional costs if there is a requirement to publish notice in the newspaper.  

Need further information?

Contact the Division

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