Department of Natural Resources - DNR
Before appropriating (diverting) any water from the streams of Nebraska a person or entity must obtain a permit (water appropriation) first. It establishes a property right. There is a legal framework for surface water use called the prior appropriation system, which protects vested rights to use water when the supply is not adequate for all users. The permitting system is also used to administer the preference of use requirements of state law, which distinguishes domestic, agricultural and manufacturing uses in terms of administering surface water supplies in times of shortage. Over 75% of surface water rights in Nebraska are for irrigation. This includes storage rights for water held in lakes, ponds and reservoirs.