The big-thinking proposal to create a 4,000-acre lake between Omaha and Lincoln is still on track, but also on pause pending a feasibility study that focuses on its potential impact on the future water supplies for Lincoln and Omaha.
"I do think it will happen," Sen. Mike McDonnell of Omaha, a leader in pushing the project, said during an interview.
"Yes, we will get there. For the future of the state, it's a project we have to accomplish," he said.
Although he is now Nebraska's attorney general and no longer a Lincoln senator who was the leader of the so-called STARWARS Committee that recommended the project, Mike Hilgers said "we're probably on the 35-yard line" awaiting results of a study of big-city water supply issues.
"Can we find a location that would not negatively impact the water supply of Lincoln and MUD?" Hilgers said.
MUD is the Metropolitan Utilities District political subdivision that delivers water to more than 600,000 people in metropolitan Omaha.
Lincoln is aggressively searching for a second water source to meet its growing needs; the city currently is supplied by wells on the Platte River near Ashland.
Protecting the water supply for the two big cities as they continue to grow is "the critical threshold" that needs to be addressed in the study undertaken by the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources, Hilgers said.
"We need to find win-win opportunities," he said.
McDonnell said he is sensitive to Lincoln's needs.
"That's part of our responsibility," he said.
Lincoln can't grow without securing a second, dependable water supply, McDonnell said, and that goal needs to be achieved.
The proposed 7-mile-long lake between Lincoln and Omaha is viewed as a potential boon to recreation, economic development, tourism and enhanced lifestyle benefits.
McDonnell said the lake could help address many of Nebraska's current challenges.
"We need a way to recruit and retain people in Nebraska," he said.
The proposed lake would be 4,000 acres, larger than Lake Okoboji in Iowa, which is a popular vacation and recreation destination for Nebraskans now.
Sen. Eliot Bostar of Lincoln introduced a bill earlier this week to begin development of a second water source for the city.
Bostar's proposal (LB506) seeks designation of $200 million in available federal COVID-19 recovery funds to help launch the $1.4 billion project.
Lincoln's water source advisory council has recommended that the city consider building a new municipal wellfield along the Missouri River between Omaha and Nebraska City.
With his selection as the new speaker of the Legislature, Sen. John Arch of La Vista automatically became the new chairman of the Statewide Tourism and Recreational Water Access and Resource Sustainability (STARWARS) Committee.
Four Lincoln senators, Beau Ballard, Jane Raybould, Anna Wishart and Bostar, are members of the 11-member committee.
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