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June 11, 2008
Among the urgent priorities which Governor Heineman and Nebraska legislators should address in preparation for the 2009 legislative session, surely there must be included renewed efforts to protect the state’s precious underground water supply and to preserve the Niobrara, one of the most remarkable scenic and recreational rivers in the United States.
It may be too late to restore the Platte River to anything like its former vitality, but there should surely be strong efforts in that regard, too.
Perhaps the most effective way to address these critically important water problems would be to smack down any effort to weaken the authority of the State Department of Natural Resources.
Such a weakening was the object of a bill which, fortunately, died in committee in the 2008 Legislature. But when the 2009 Legislature convenes, there surely will be renewed efforts to reduce the authority of the Department of Natural Resources, one object being to make it more difficult for the department to deny applications to divert even more water from the Niobrara in order to serve irrigation interests.
The first test of Gov. Heineman’s determination to stand steady against such threats to the Niobrara will be his appointment of a successor to Ann Bleed, who resigned after a long career as director of the Department of Natural Resources. Bleed said “no”—firmly but courteously—to increased diversion of Niobrara water for irrigation. There were clear indications that she felt she did not have the full support of Governor Heineman in his efforts to place the interests of all Nebraskans ahead of those pushing hard for pumping of underground water and for the diversion of more water from the Niobrara, whose waters already irrigate more than 600,000 acres.
In regard to the Niobrara, internationally respected ecologist Paul Johnsgard, retired University of Nebraska faculty member, has written:
“Nebraskans have already effectively lost their two other major rivers to agricultural ‘progress.’ These rivers, the Republican and the Central Platte, now are virtual trickles if not entirely dried every mid-summer, owing to inadequate legal controls and upstream irrigation withdrawals.”
In regard to the Niobrara, Johnsgard wrote:
“With persistent care and vigilance, the Niobrara River will continue to call softly to us for decades to come, will sooth us and our descendants with whispered stories told by its running waters—and will provide both home and habitats for the plants and animals we are lucky enough to have as fellow travelers on our own brief journey through this beautiful world.”
Johnsgard, of course, is far from alone in his concern over the Niobrara.
The American Rivers association has placed the Niobrara on its annual list of the top 10 most endangered United States rivers.
In the first six months of 2007, five times more Niobrara water was requested for irrigation than in all of the 1980s, according to American Rivers. Mel Thornton, president of Friends of the Niobrara, commented: “Nebraska has gotten in big trouble with the Republican and the Platte, and a good use of our waters is irrigation. But we have to make sure we don’t over-appropriate, that we don’t give away more water than is really in the river.”
Thousands upon thousands of Nebraskans who have canoed or rafted or simply looked down at the Niobrara from scenic overlooks have vivid pleasant memories of that beautiful scenic and recreational river and the valley through which it flows. But there are stretches where jarringly unattractive aspects of the river valley come into view. Pictured below is one such example: a diversion channel of the type which make hundreds of thousands of gallons of Niobrara River water available for pumping onto irrigated fields. Enough said.
* * *
I continue to be surprised that in stories which talk of the Omaha Royals baseball franchise possibly moving to LaVista or some other state, there frequently is no reference—and sometimes only a passing reference well down in the story—to the fact that 50% of the stock in the Royals corporation is owned by Omahans Warren Buffett and Walter Scott.
When Gus Cherry, a Chicagoan who owned the franchise but wanted to make sure it went to owners who would keep it in Omaha, sold the franchise for $5 million in 1992, the new owners purchased the franchise because they wanted to keep it in Omaha.
Those owners were the Union Pacific Railroad, 50%; Warren Buffett, 25%; Walter Scott, 25%.
Because Gus Cherry and I had become friends, I was involved in the negotiations. Both Buffett and Scott said their motivation was to assure that the Royals franchise remained in Omaha where it had been operating in close cooperation with the annual College World Series.
The Union Pacific’s 50% ownership was sold outside the community, but recent inquiries lead me to believe that neither Buffett nor Scott has changed the reasoning which led them to purchase 50% of the Royals franchise, with the understanding that the Royals franchise could not be moved from Omaha without consent of the majority of the stockholders, including Buffett and Scott.
* * *
Barack Obama’s generalized campaign theme that he will bring about “change” is surely leaving some basic questions unanswered. Change to what, specifically?
And he runs into trouble when he tries to get more specific. For example:
TV personality Wolf Blitzer was interviewing Obama on what his tax policy would be. Blitzer observed that some CEOs have been receiving salary increases while their businesses have been operating less profitably.
“CEOs will pay more taxes,” Obama asserted.
Is this carefully-thought-out tax policy? Or pure liberal populism?
* * *
Regular readers may remember that I claim to be the first to have given an appropriately descriptive name to a political trait, tongue in cheek, which I liken to a sort of virus—the apparently uncontrollable urge of certain individuals to continue seeking public office.
I’ve named this virus “politicus incurabilis,” and I would say former mayor and Second District Congressman Hal Daub is very clearly afflicted.
Now I don’t say that in Daub’s case this is a bad thing. He gave good service in four terms in the House of Representatives, before unsuccessfully running for the Senate in 1990.
In his six years in the mayor’s office, before his defeat by present mayor Mike Fahey in 2001, Daub was an aggressive chief executive for a growing city.
Now, at 67, after seriously considering seeking the Republican nomination for the Senate seat being vacated by Chuck Hagel, Daub is seeking a return to the mayor’s office. He is surely a viable candidate.
Mayor Fahey has indicated he is not ready to make a decision in regard to seeking a third term.
I doubt that Daub’s announcement will have decisive influence on Fahey’s decision, since it has been assumed that a man with “politicus incurabilis” like the energetic Hal Daub might well look favorably on another try for the mayor’s office after his political smarts convinced him—as it did Attorney General Jon Bruning—that Governor Mike Johanns would be too formidable an opponent in a contest for the Republican Senatorial nomination.
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