Jim Barr

Position Held: Staffer, Game and Parks Commission and SWCC; Staff, State Office of Planning and Programming, 1968 - 1970; Field Representative, Congressman Doug Bereuter; State Director, Nebraska USDA-RD; Farmer

Interviewer: Ann Bleed

Associated NRDs:



MS. BLEED: Okay. This is Ann Bleed and I'm here to interview Jim Barr. And it's August -- or July 21st, 2014. Jim, why don't you start out with a little bit of your background, where are you from and just a synopsis of where you got -- how you got to where you are now.

MR. BARR: Well, I haven't moved very far. I was born on the -- or we were living on the place where I am now when I was born. So, I came up on a farm in York County, Nebraska, northwest of York a little ways -- livestock, grain operation -- more livestock in terms of -- than anything. Went to grade, country school in Bradshaw and then York beginning my sophomore year, where I graduated -- university -- or Doane College for a year and then university for three. Graduated in '61. Went to the Air Force. Got out of that in '65.

MS. BLEED: What was your field of study at the university?

MR. BARR: Economics.

MS. BLEED: Economics.

MR. BARR: Started out in engineering at Doane and decided mathematics was not my favorite subject, and I didn't do too good, so. And then you can become an economist where mostly you just B.S. anyhow, so. Then, let's see, Air Force. After the Berlin crisis, my plans changed and I -- they gave me a chance to enlist so I went to the Air Force where I had been in ROTC. Got out and went directly then to graduate school at the University of Nebraska, in ag-economics again. Clayton Yeutter was another student at that point. And he was Dr. Fisher's (phonetic) star student, and I was on the other end. He was doing a doctorate, and I was doing a master's, so. After, got -- and I did, a kind of a, paper on -- industrial water was my area of that. Then I ended up going to work for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission as chief planner of recreation. A couple of years, went to gradate school in Michigan State. Started a PhD. I didn't finish. Ran out of money and came back and Doug Bereuter asked me to come back to help him set up a new agency, the state office in planning and programming.

MS. BLEED: And what year was that?

MR. BARR: That was -- well, he called in late '69, but we didn't actually start until -- or I didn't start until January of 1970.

MS. BLEED: So, you started just as the NRD legislation --

MR. BARR: Well, actually, I had -- I had been involved somewhat. I was -- Mel Steen (phonetic) was the director of the Game and Parks Commission, and I tagged along with him to some of the meetings.

MS. BLEED: Okay.

MR. BARR: He was on the commission at that point. And, particularly in relation to the boundary or the regional areas, because the Game and Parks Commission had a series of regions too.

MS. BLEED: Okay. I am going to stop, stop you right there. I don't want to get this too out of sequence. Let's finish up with your history and then we'll go back to that.

MR. BARR: Oh, well. Okay. Let's see. Where was I?

MS. BLEED: You had come back to work for Doug Bereuter.

MR. BARR: State -- the state office --

MS. BLEED: In the state --

MR. BARR: -- of planning and programming. Was there for, until I think, well, I was there until Tiemann lost the election. Then, I went over to work for the commission.

MS. BLEED: Which commission?

MR. BARR: Well, it was soil and water conservation --

MS. BLEED: Okay.

MR. BARR: -- commission at that time. Jim Owens was the director of planning, and we were still involved in the water plan, but I was brought over to start the water quality planning section for the state. And did that and did the -- finished the interim plan and got the -- and they were still working on the Salt Water Valley Watershed, water quality plan. Then Don Nelson asked me to come back over to the State Office of Planning and Programming where I stayed until, I think, it was March of '76. I know I'd been down to the water conference, and the first day I went home and ran into a blizzard and downed power lines, so I just -- that was it. I farmed for a couple of years. And when Doug won the election to the --

MS. BLEED: Doug Bereuter that is.

MR. BARR: Doug Bereuter won the election of the House, he asked me to come on to -- and get him out of trouble with the agricultural interests. And so, I did ag and natural resources for many years.

MS. BLEED: And that was in Nebraska?

MR. BARR: Oh, yeah. I always was stationed here. I may have went back and forth, but -- in fact, the first time I went to D.C. was during the tractorcade and trying to keep order in the office with that. Then, I was there for a long time. Eventually, did the district manager business for Doug. And then, in 2001, I went over to the Bush administration as a political appointee to the state director of USDA rural development and retired in '05, and have had a farming and cattle operation the whole time. So. The only time I didn't have any cattle was in the Air Force.

MS. BLEED: In the Air Force.

MR. BARR: Yeah.

MS. BLEED: So, let's go back. You started to talk a little bit about being with the Game and Parks Commission. And what year was that? Nineteen sixty --

MR. BARR: '67 and '69.

MS. BLEED: -- seven. And that was when there was just discussions starting about NRDs?

MR. BARR: Well, yeah. We were doing the state water plan, and I think the Water Resources Act in '65 tried to get everybody to do a state water plan. And the state was working on that. The Commission was directing it, but other agencies were involved. And our agency was peripherally involved too. And I started to go into this business about the regions, and Game and Parks Commission had regions, economic development had regions, so everybody had regions. So we had --

MS. BLEED: These are planning regions, or --

MR. BARR: Yeah, and other -- and operational also.

MS. BLEED: Uh-huh.

MR. BARR: And so, we would sit down and visit about that, arguing. I know Mel Steen had me go to a meeting in the governor's office at the time and presented his reasons, but it looked like it wasn't really going to be a conflict with the Game and Parks, so they never really raised much objection, other than just questioning to see how it was going to work. There were some subcommittees on the state water plan I probably was involved in as I recall. Then, during the key year, '69, when the legislation passed, I was in Michigan. So, I didn't have direct involvement in the passage of it. There was some, I think, amendments and stuff from '70 on that we might have had some peripheral relationships with. One of my jobs at the state planning office was to do the A95 review, which was essentially the state's review of federally related projects. And I did them in the area of agriculture, natural resources, transportation, and I don't remember, some others maybe. So, I got to see the various proposals in all sorts of areas in natural resources, and conversations, and meetings, and all that sort of thing. While there, one of the things we did was, Gayle and I and Adonis (phonetic) Peterson -- I'm not sure Gayle was there. I think it was

MS. BLEED: This is Gayle Starr?

MR. BARR: -- Dave Mizour (phonetic). It was Dave Mizour from the commission.

MS. BLEED: Okay.

MR. BARR: And Adonis Peterson and I --

MS. BLEED: And who was Adonis Peterson?

MR. BARR: He was economic development department.

MS. BLEED: Okay.

MR. BARR: And he, then, later worked with the Nebraska Public Power. But, we set up the criteria for the, what was called at the time euphemistically, the million dollar club, the natural resource development fund.

MS. BLEED: And there is what? Where were you at this point?

MR. BARR: I was with State Office of Planning and Programming.

MS. BLEED: The State Office -- this is with state office and planning, okay.

MR. BARR: And, in fact, we had the same argument there with, I remember going with Doug and Gayle with Warren Fairchild over to Tiemann, Governor Tiemann's office, and we talked about regions. Doug had a building block concept with, I believe, 26 regions, which could then be pieced together.

MS. BLEED: Uh-huh.

MR. BARR: And he was more interested in political boundaries. So, his were all based on political boundaries. And we had the discussion there -- and it pretty much satisfied him that the purposes of the natural resource districts didn't significantly conflict with what he was talking about in terms of economic development districts, so. But we had a discussion there to iron that out. I can't remember much else, other than we did get involved in a lot of the discussions on the legislation itself.

MS. BLEED: Can you elaborate a little bit more about what the basic issues were with the boundaries? As I understand it, one was you wanted them on watershed boundaries.

MR. BARR: Yes.

MS. BLEED: And the question, one question I've had is why did you decide that was important?

MR. BARR: I didn't decide.

MS. BLEED: Or whoever.

MR. BARR: But the commission --

MS. BLEED: What was the reason there?

MR. BARR: -- Dayle and Gayle would've, would be better sources on that. Well, it was, a lot of the problems with the soil and water conservation districts were you had a county but if you had six or seven different sub-basins, some of them, many of them in other counties, they couldn't really do a basin-wide plan or projects that would deal with the full basin. And I think that was the basic reason. Plus, we had all these watershed conservancy districts and all these other districts that were out there, including irrigation districts, which were originally in the discussion.

MS. BLEED: Uh-huh.

MR. BARR: Rural water districts were originally in the discussions. As it turned out, and I'm sure that the folks in Tri-Basin will probably cover this, but they decided not to include the irrigation districts. There were some proposals on how to do that. They also decided not to include the rural water districts, but they did -- they grandfathered in the existing ones --

MS. BLEED: Right.

MR. BARR: -- and required any new ones to go through the natural resource district and, I believe, maybe one or two of them may have even turned themselves over to the --

MS. BLEED: Uh-huh. And that was primarily because of opposition from the rural water districts, or --

MR. BARR: Well, a lot of these rural water districts were essentially set up on a sanitary improvement district or some -- well, they were also sanitary improvement districts.

MS. BLEED: Uh-huh.

MR. BARR: They were set up on non, or special purpose districts. And I think this was one of the real reasons behind the natural resource districts. There were so many proliferation of various and sundry little districts, somewhat related to natural resources. And one of the things I learned in this process was that Dayle gives a great deal of credit to Clayton Yeutter's seminar --

MS. BLEED: Uh-huh.

MR. BARR: -- on this very subject. This was a big issue in California at the time also. And it was an issue that we discussed in the economics -- at the economics department. Lloyd Fisher (phonetic) was another one that had strong feelings on this, and his concern about the basin-wide approach that the natural resource districts took was that they didn't really fully involve groundwater. And where there may or may not have been the right area to consider or not in the districts. That was one of his concerns, and I was reminded of it in the --

MS. BLEED: Uh-huh. Yeah.

MR. BARR: -- interview with Lloyd.

MS. BLEED: Yeah. But so, they -- you decided to do it on watershed districts, and flooding was a big issue at this time, right?

MR. BARR: Well, let me back up a little bit.

MS. BLEED: Okay.

MR. BARR: There was also the side issue of political boundaries. And I think that, on the margin, is where the real argument was.

MS. BLEED: Uh-huh.

MR. BARR: Was where do you draw the line? You can generally have a basin in this way with boundaries or you can go closer to the basin by going in on townships.

MS. BLEED: And by political boundaries, you mean --

MR. BARR: Townships.

MS. BLEED: -- county --

MR. BARR: Townships.

MS. BLEED: Townships, okay.

MR. BARR: Townships.

MS. BLEED: And what about county boundaries?

MR. BARR: Well, yeah, obviously.

MS. BLEED: Uh-huh.

MR. BARR: Here in Tri-Basin, they won out.

MS. BLEED: Yeah.

MR. BARR: And went to the three-county area.

MS. BLEED: Uh-huh.

MR. BARR: But in, yeah, originally the argument was to go to counties. Then it pretty much dropped down to go to townships. And I think we -- I'm not sure. I should back off. We, at least, stayed with census tracks.

MS. BLEED: Uh-huh.

MR. BARR: I don't remember if we stayed with township boundaries. But we -- in some cases they were the same, but --

MS. BLEED: Uh-huh.

MR. BARR: -- I think we did always stay with what was the census at that time. Now, and I, here that's a good question to ask, I think we stayed with townships, but I'm not absolutely sure. But that was part of the argument.

MS. BLEED: And then, the other question I have is, if you want to do watershed boundaries, the Platte River could be one watershed boundary. How did you decide how to split up these large watersheds?

MR. BARR: Well, that would've been an awfully difficult district to manage. I think, I don't know exactly how they drew the line --

MS. BLEED: Well, the north and the south Platte makes some sense.

MR. BARR: Yes. And up to a point, where’s the gauging station? Did that end at where the Twin Platte and the Central Platte --

MS. BLEED: Yeah, there's a gauging station right at the confluence of the north and south Platte.

MR. BARR: I think that probably was a factor there. Then, as you get down to Columbus, I think that's where --

MS. BLEED: Yeah.

MR. BARR: -- the Loups come in.

MS. BLEED: Yeah, the Loups come in, right.

MR. BARR: And so, I think that was the reason for that decision. The lower and the south Platte, I am not quite sure that I recall. And then --

MS. BLEED: And then, the Twin Platte and Tri-Basin have their own issues, but --

MR. BARR: Yes.

MS. BLEED: And the same with the -- so, was the general consensus that if the district was too big, it would be too difficult, or --

MR. BARR: Politically to get --

MS. BLEED: Politically.

MR. BARR: Yeah.

MS. BLEED: It was more political than the --

MR. BARR: I think so.

MS. BLEED: -- hydrological differences --

MR. BARR: Oh, I think that was always the case --

MS. BLEED: Uh-huh.

MR. BARR: -- in the political. I mean, there may have been other --

MS. BLEED: Yeah.

MR. BARR: -- hydrologic arguments --

MS. BLEED: Yeah.

MR. BARR: -- that I don't recall, but -- and then, up on the Niobrara, I think it was just the fact that it was -- there was a lot of argument there because the population and the financial base was so small. And then, on the middle Missouri and the Lewis and Clark, there was these arguments of how you get it in as you see that it turned out the Missouri tribs did eventually consolidate with Papio.

MS. BLEED: Let me go back to that for a minute. My understanding is that some of the watershed districts had a lot of trouble raising enough money to do much.

MR. BARR: Oh gosh, yes. Certainly.

MS. BLEED: Would you talk about that, and talk about how the NRDs either helped that or not?

MR. BARR: The soil and water conservation districts were no larger than a county, and I think they were all county. So, they essentially had to go to the county board to get their funding. They had no direct way of getting funding other than what the county board decided they would provide. And here again, if you did a project that spilled over into a second county, then you would've had to have an inter-local agreement and you would've had to have gotten both counties approval and money from both counties. And so, this would kind of allow two things: one, an independent source of financing; and two, a way to get -- without having to have an inter-local agreement to go ahead and do a basin project. And a lot of these were 566 related. The PL566 --

MS. BLEED: What is PL566?

MR. BARR: -- the water -- the Small Watershed Act that the Soil Conservation Service and, later, NRCS has managed over the years.

MS. BLEED: So, that's a federal --

MR. BARR: That was the original way of developing water projects through the soil and water conservation county districts. And I think we had one or two of the first ones. One I think was in Gage County and one out in the Republican some place, as I recall. And don't remember the exact --

MS. BLEED: And so, they had problems, the watershed districts had problems with funding, and --

MR. BARR: Yeah.

MS. BLEED: -- so how did the -- did the NRDs help solve that problem, or --

MR. BARR: Well, before the NRDs even, I remember going on what we used to euphemistically call meetings where you left your car running. And a friend of mine was Dennis Hackbart, and he was the economist for the Soil Conservation Service at the time on these 566 projects. And so, I tagged along on some of them, at times, to -- because we had to do the review, the state's review of those projects. And particularly in the southeast part of the state, some of those were fairly contentious. And we never really had to actually leave the car running, but you were kind of glad to be done with the meeting at times. So --

MS. BLEED: So then, when the NRDs came along, one of the things that they got was the ability to levy taxes.

MR. BARR: Oh, sure. Sure. That was the key. That was the key thing.

MS. BLEED: And tell me about that discussion.

MR. BARR: Well, you had a lot of concern from both the counties who were losing a certain amount of control, and definitely, in places, you had concern from the Soil Conservation Service because they were losing control. Pretty much, they used a board that they picked.

MS. BLEED: The Soil Conservation Service?

MR. BARR: Yeah. It was an elected board, but they went out and solicited people to volunteer. And usually no more than one person for a sub-district, and then they were elected. And I don't know, there's -- I've heard comments that a great deal of them were pretty much social. But a lot of them did get things done, and the one that eventually developed in the Papio, the one that John Neuberger (phonetic) organized over -- and I don't remember the exact name of that -- maybe it was the Papio -- they got pretty good funding, and they did quite a bunch of stuff. And they were a larger area because, I think, they were working on their conservancy district or something also. But they were probably the pattern from which Warren may have based the NRD. I mean, the experimental run of an NRD was essentially that district, I think, that John -- and he had several of the -- I think he had Dick Berans (phonetic) and I don't remember if Fleecs worked for the commission. I think Oltmans (phonetic) worked over there --

MS. BLEED: Yeah.

MR. BARR: -- for awhile --

MS. BLEED: (Indiscernible).

MR. BARR: -- and maybe another one, I -- but at least two of them --

MS. BLEED: So, you're talking about a conservancy district in the Papio --

MR. BARR: Well, it was a bigger district and I don't remember -- it's covered in John's interview, the exact formation. And he's got reports --

MS. BLEED: Okay.

MR. BARR: -- in there that give a lot more detail, and I hesitate to try to go into that because --

MS. BLEED: Sure.

MR. BARR: -- it will be a lot more big in the --

MS. BLEED: But that might have been the prototype, you think?

MR. BARR: Yeah. I think it was the prototype, exactly, at least in some aspects.

MS. BLEED: And that also got away from, as I understand with the watershed districts, that the locals didn't want to spend the money. And, of course, the NRDs still have to --

MR. BARR: Yeah.

MS. BLEED: -- make sure that -- because they are locally elected, they can't get too wild with their spending.

MR. BARR: Well, and of course, in the early discussion and formation of them was one person, one vote or not. And I think, to begin with, it was not. I think some of them went to it voluntarily. I can't remember. I know we had the discussions, whether they actually went or not. League of Women Voters, very active in that. My wife was involved at that point. And so, I got to hear that side of the argument too.

MS. BLEED: And the reason not to have one person, one vote? What was the concern there?

MR. BARR: Well, that, two probably: one, that a certain area might be excluded; and two, that the urban vote would overwhelm the rural vote. Well, as it's turned out, I don't think that's been a big problem. By and large, folks in the urban area don't have that big of an interest in natural resources at that level. And there's -- I think a lot of them, maybe they still nominate by sub-districts and then the vote is -- but I think it's based on a similar population basis. Well, I think there's both ways.

MS. BLEED: It depends on the NRD.

MR. BARR: It is both ways. You're more familiar here.

MS. BLEED: Yeah. In fact, I became president of the local League of Woman Voters just as that lawsuit was finishing up.

MR. BARR: Okay.

MS. BLEED: And it ended up --

MR. BARR: When did that finish?

MS. BLEED: That would've been in '76, I believe.

MR. BARR: '76. Okay.

MS. BLEED: I could be wrong on that.

MR. BARR: Okay.

MS. BLEED: But it was started before I was president and finished up just as I was president.

MR. BARR: Who were some of the leaders in that?

MS. BLEED: Well, I know Elaine Hammer was huge. And she worked, and I'm trying to remember --

MR. BARR: She was Doug's treasurer at the time, so --

MS. BLEED: Right.

MR. BARR: -- he had quite a bit of contact with Elaine.

MS. BLEED: Yeah. Yeah. And I assume Karen Kerr (phonetic) was --

MR. BARR: Karen, yep. She was very involved.

MS. BLEED: -- involved. And I know they were very supportive of the NRD concept, but, of course, the league was very much about voting issues and voting rights, and the one person, one vote. And they didn't say one man, one vote, it was one person, one vote. And if I remember correctly, the -- when the lawsuit was filed, there was also a lawsuit that was filed dealing with voter rights in the south --

MR. BARR: Huh.

MS. BLEED: -- of one person, one vote. And that lawsuit, the decision on that lawsuit made our law, by the U.S. Supreme Court, made it less likely that we could win our lawsuit. And I think, I'd have to check on this, but I think that the issue was, if it was nominated by sub-district but election-at-large, it was still one person, one vote.

MR. BARR: That might have been there, and I kind of forgot that.

MS. BLEED: And when that was decided to be okay, then I believe the way the law, the League of Women Voters' lawsuit was phrased, it became kind of a moot point. So, we essentially lost, but as you just said, most of the districts have gone to much more of a one person, one vote. It may be nomination by sub-district and election-at-large, or just by sub-district.

MR. BARR: Yeah.

MS. BLEED: I know the Lower Platte South used to be election-at-large, but then they went to sub-districts because it was too hard for people in one part of the district to have any clue on what somebody from the other part of the district was like.

MR. BARR: Another issue that you were just reminding me of is that, the size of the boards.

MS. BLEED: Uh-huh. Yeah. Tell me about that.

MR. BARR: And the interim board was essentially all members of all of the boards that were consolidated.

MS. BLEED: So, they were large in some cases?

MR. BARR: Some of them were as much as 400 meeting in an auditorium. And then, normally, they would pick an executive committee. I know that's what happened to Central Platte. Dick Mercer, I think, was one of them. And so, they came down to whatever size, and by and large what it was, as I recall, it was either -- I can't remember if the lowest was seven or nine, but the top was 21. And so, a lot of them, whatever they'd made their interim board --

MS. BLEED: I think --

MR. BARR: -- basically became the number that they use yet today, in some cases. Some of them have reduced, but it's varied throughout the state as –- which board member size they finally adopted.

MS. BLEED: And that's up to the NRD --

MR. BARR: Yeah.

MS. BLEED: -- to this day to decide.

MR. BARR: As long as they're within that range.

MS. BLEED: Right. Right.

MR. BARR: And they can change them.

MS. BLEED: Are there -- was there much discussion about making sure that you didn't have all the people from one area?

MR. BARR: Well, that was the reason to have sub-districts, and nominate originally all nominations by --

MS. BLEED: But was that in the original bill, or --

MR. BARR: You know, I don't remember. See, we had a -- we had the original bill. Then, we had the lawsuit filed to stop it. And then, I think, we had either -- I know we had at least one corrections bill.

MS. BLEED: Now that's -- wait a minute, let's be clear, the lawsuit to dealing with one person, one vote --

MR. BARR: Is different.

MS. BLEED: -- is different from the --

MR. BARR: Yeah. The original lawsuit was filed sometime --

MS. BLEED: Now, the lawsuit to stop the NRD is the one you're talking about. Okay.

MR. BARR: -- after it was passed in '69.

MS. BLEED: Right, to stop the whole concept.

MR. BARR: And that, I can't remember. I think that was resolved before '72 when they actually went into effect. From July '72 until January of '74, they were an interim board, and then starting in January of '74, the first elected boards took over. And I think they were by and large at least nominated by, if not nominated and elected, by district in most cases. I wouldn't be held to that.

MS. BLEED: Yeah. It probably varies a lot.

MR. BARR: Yeah.

MS. BLEED: So, at this time, this is in the early 70s, that was before the big on-rush of drilling wells and center-pivots.

MR. BARR: Well --

MS. BLEED: They were just getting started, and the NRDs really, although it says they have authority over groundwater in the original legislation, they really didn't get clear authority until later.

MR. BARR: Let me go back. 1955 to 1957 was a very dry period.

MS. BLEED: Uh-huh.

MR. BARR: And an awful lot of wells went in at that point, particularly in the York, Aurora area. I remember that was, '55 is the first year I farmed. And in '56 in July about this time, we got our first well. And we used the big ditch-makers, and it's curved around as the water flew, flowed, and put dams in, and we used tubes. And at that time, they went in pretty fast. And in '57, my brother and I spent most of the irrigating season on the porch waiting for the irrigation motor to kick off, because every time it kicked off, we had to go out and reset all the tubes. One day, I think I counted 20 times that that had happened. But that was when the first onslaught of wells came in.

MS. BLEED: Uh-huh.

MR. BARR: And then, in varying degrees, they proliferated after that. In the early 70s, or late 60s and early 70s, there were groundwater districts formed which were the ones primarily responsible for groundwater. And I remember, one time, I was with Vince Dreeszen and Deon Axtell, and we set up the first criteria for implementing irrigation controls. And that was in the early 70s. It was a problem then. I was the state's representative on the Level B Study in the mid-70s, Carol Hamin (phonetic) and I. And, of course, the modeling on the Platte was what we were looking at, primarily in relation to the mid-state's project.

MS. BLEED: And this is the Platte Level B Study?

MR. BARR: It was the Platte Level B Study, Platte River Level B Study.

MS. BLEED: And when you say it was a problem then, was that a problem with well interference or what was it exactly was --

MR. BARR: Groundwater decline.

MS. BLEED: It was -- you were worried about groundwater decline.

MR. BARR: Oh, gosh, yes. Yes.

MS. BLEED: Okay.

MR. BARR: And at that point, the projections were that we'd have been well out of it by now.

MS. BLEED: And that was based on?

MR. BARR: On --

MS. BLEED: Groundwater modeling.

MR. BARR: -- groundwater modeling. Yes.

MS. BLEED: Uh-huh.

MR. BARR: And particularly, I don't know if they had models everywhere, but they had a modeling system set up for the Platte as part of this, that Level B study --

MS. BLEED: Okay.

MR. BARR: -- which the Bureau of Reclamation basically ran, and I can't think of the gentleman’s name that did that. There were pretty dire predictions at that point, because we had been in kind of a dry period.

MS. BLEED: Was that Bob Kutz (phonetic) by any chance?

MR. BARR: Bob was, he came after John Main. John Main was the director, was the head of it, the bureau, in Grand Island --

MS. BLEED: Okay.

MR. BARR: -- at that time. Kutz came after --

MS. BLEED: Came after, okay.

MR. BARR: -- that. But, I was trying to think of the name of the gentleman that did the modeling.

MS. BLEED: Well, I think Ralph Kady (phonetic) did some of the modeling.

MR. BARR: That might, he's one of them. And maybe he was the one.

MS. BLEED: He was a key person with conservation in the survey division at the time.

MR. BARR: Oh, well, this was somebody working for the Bureau of Reclamation that was doing the project, doing the modeling. Because it was part of the mid-state project. And then this, let me just go on --

MS. BLEED: Yeah, go on, I bet you'll --

MR. BARR: -- to expand in something else.


MR. BARR: This had to do with the, well, we had several irrigation projects in addition to the one up on the Niobrara and the Loup. We had the mid-state project.

MS. BLEED: Uh-huh.

MR. BARR: And that was essentially one of the key topics in the Platte Level B Study. And at that time -- up until that point, the Bureau of Reclamation pretty much always won in any fight that they had with us, Fish and Wildlife Service. And as part of the Platte Level B Study, we had to come up with a, kind of a, mid-state light. I don't remember what the name was called. Eventually, it turned into the project that the Upper Big Blue and the Central Platte talked about.

MS. BLEED: Prairie Bend Twin Valley.

MR. BARR: Prairie Bend. So, we had, essentially, mid-state light which eventually became that. But John Main and the bureau, they were sure they could bull through with what they wanted. And so, they did not compromise. And within about six months to a year, things changed. And the Fish and Wildlife Service wouldn't compromise. So, you saw at that point --

MS. BLEED: And, of course, the endangered --

MR. BARR: -- the momentum changed from the developers to the environmental --

MS. BLEED: Yeah. The Endangered Species Act was '72.

MR. BARR: Yeah. That all developed into the -- I mean the Clean Water Act was '70, I think or --

MS. BLEED: 1970s, yeah.

MR. BARR: Yeah. And all of this stuff came together and it was very interesting to see the dynamics in these committees, because the state was one of them but so was the Bureau of Reclamation, the Corps of Engineers, soil and water conservation -- Soil Conservation Service, and I can't think -- the division of, Vince Dreeszen was involved I think, his shop, and I can't remember all the others. But that was a very interesting dynamic to watch that happen. You could see it coming.

MS. BLEED: Uh-huh.

MR. BARR: But John never did.

MS. BLEED: John?

MR. BARR: Main.

MS. BLEED: Main.

MR. BARR: Yeah. Just would not compromise. And it may have been because of the boards he was working with too. I don't know the dynamics beyond that.

MS. BLEED: Yeah, it's hard when you're working for a board. It's hard to know whether that's the personal opinion of the manager or --

MR. BARR: And in his case, it wasn't the board that he was working for, it was the board he was dealing with in order to have a little response, so --

MS. BLEED: Yeah.

MR. BARR: I should correct that.

MS. BLEED: So, at any rate, I want to get back to the groundwater because that's so important to Nebraska. The legislation says something about the NRDs have control over surface water and groundwater which I've always found interesting, because the department was clearly in charge of surface water.

MR. BARR: Uh-huh.

MS. BLEED: And I was just reading the, last night, apparently, the Supreme Court case about the NRDs -- or there was another lawsuit dealing with Beatrice, and they wanted to get water down from Beatrice down to the homestead area and it was a Supreme Court, Nebraska Supreme Court, case said, yes, they could do that, but they had to get a transfer okay -- it didn't say permit, but the DWR, State DWR had to okay that transfer, which I thought was interesting. So, it was, and I, from my understanding, at this point in time, it was pretty, it was not clear who actually was in charge of groundwater. Is that fair?

MR. BARR: Let me back up again, to the state water plan that was developed in the mid-60s. This was an item of discussion, and they decided essentially to focus on two areas, surface water projects and institutional factors, which is essentially what led to the development of the natural resource district legislation. And the plan itself, in retrospect, I think one of the real problems with that plan was that it was once printed, because then it became a plan on a shelf. When, in reality, planning should involve a process that continues on and is continually updated, and I think that's where Nebraska has met a real problem, in that we essentially quit planning for water back in the 70s.

MS. BLEED: When you say --

MR. BARR: Yeah.

MS. BLEED: Yeah. I'm sorry. When you say institutional process?

MR. BARR: How you're organized.

MS. BLEED: How you're organized, okay.

MR. BARR: The governmental units and that sort of thing.

MS. BLEED: Yeah.

MR. BARR: Yeah. And that's what I think led to the consolidation of the, all these special purpose district into the natural resource districts, yeah.

MS. BLEED: Was that concern about the institutional? So, in a sense, it came out of the State Office of Planning and Programming?

MR. BARR: Yeah. No, no, no. The state water plan was developed by the soil and water conservation --

MS. BLEED: Ah. Okay.

MR. BARR: No, that was their business --

MS. BLEED: That was the soil and water conservation.

MR. BARR: Yes. Gayle Starr was very involved in that --

MS. BLEED: Okay. Okay. Okay.

MR. BARR: -- and Dayle --

MS. BLEED: Okay.

MR. BARR: -- and all that staff.

MS. BLEED: Okay. So that, in a sense, was part of the original concept of the --

MR. BARR: Yes, of the state water plan.

MS. BLEED: -- NRDs, right? And --

MR. BARR: And it included a number of surface water related plan.

MS. BLEED: So, --

MR. BARR: But they made a conscious decision not to include groundwater in the state plan, which I think, in retrospect, was a big mistake.

MS. BLEED: Why did they decide that?

MR. BARR: I don't know. We should ask Dayle.

MS. BLEED: Okay. Okay.

MR. BARR: I don't know exactly why, I think it was just too controversial. And I remember Dayle and Vince was on the thing, and I don't know what Vince's -- Vince Dreeszen, I think, realized the connections and everything and talked about the connections, but did not think it was, went very far. And there was disagreements there, and I don't know the full story there.

MS. BLEED: Of course, we didn't know as much as we know now --

MR. BARR: Well, exactly. Exactly.

MS. BLEED: -- about the aquifers in the state at that point.

MR. BARR: Exactly, and there were many theories on how that actuality worked.

MS. BLEED: Right. So, it was mentioned in the original legislation --

MR. BARR: Uh-huh.

MS. BLEED: -- but not perceived as a major focus of the NRDs, would that be fair?

MR. BARR: And then, came in after -- well, at the time, in (indiscernible) there was groundwater conservation districts, they weren't really, I don't think they had much real -- I think they had some ability to institute requirements on drillers and stuff, but I don't remember the degree to it. It really expanded, at least, in the groundwater act in the mid-70s, wasn't it? That essentially, they assigned it to the --

MS. BLEED: Right, right, the 19, I think it was 1975.

MR. BARR: -- natural resource districts. Yeah. That sounds about right. Yeah.

MS. BLEED: And that's when they got clear authority. And then, the groundwater conservation districts got morphed into the --

MR. BARR: And I think, one of the underlying problems in this state has been we've never really resolved the differences between the correlative rights and appropriation. And, in fact, what's going on in in-stream flow. Those three --

MS. BLEED: In-stream flow rights?

MR. BARR: Those three legal things have never been really addressed directly. They've always been peripherally involved, but I don't think I've ever really saw a discussion or anything underlying and -- that was one of my real concerns with the, was it 962?

MS. BLEED: Uh-huh.

MR. BARR: That it was based primarily on the two major basins that were encountering troubles at that time. And never really faced the direct issue of the conflict between correlative rights and appropriation. That was my concern with it. And it got dealt with in a way, particularly in a way that dealt with the Republicans and to some extent the Platte, but I'm not sure that's the model that's necessary in the Niobrara or the Elkhorn or the Blues.

MS. BLEED: Yeah, but clearly the whole intersection of groundwater and surface water is an issue. Is still an issue in this state, I believe. But then, getting back -- I think we've got the NRDs are now in place. Was your involvement, then, starting to wane as you got more involved with Senator Bereuter, or --

MR. BARR: Yeah, mine, it shifted at least. Primarily, I had relation with all of the ones in the eastern part of the state. A lot of it on Corps of Engineers' projects, and federally related projects. I still had quite a bit to do with the NRDs involved in that part, and also, of course, with the re-licensing of McConaughy, that was an issue that the congressionals got involved in.

MS. BLEED: Right.

MR. BARR: And then, in the Loup, where they took over -- where that district took over maintenance of the project, we had some involvement in that. But, beyond that, in, say, in the Republican, I had almost no involvement at all, other than going on water tours or something like that.

MS. BLEED: And so, today, you were talking about your concerns about the fact that we've never addressed the in-stream flow and the surface water appropriated rights versus the groundwater correlative rights. What other things do you see that might be issues that the NRD should have or could have or did or didn't really address?

MR. BARR: Well, I think the NRDs, in their own areas, have done a pretty decent job. I think where, I think there might be a lack is in the overall guidance on some of these issues that go well beyond individual district boundaries. And that issue of the underlying legal philosophies is one of those. Some of the issues on groundwater sustainability is, I think, probably an issue that, at least, ought to have discussions state-wide as opposed to just in the districts. There's a loose mechanism in place to deal with groundwater if it's not adequately dealt with in the districts that hasn't been fully tested, I think.

MS. BLEED: And that is?

MR. BARR: Well, this, if you can't address it in the plan and the state thinks it needs to be, there is a mechanism to --

MS. BLEED: Oh, the interrelated water review board, right?

MR. BARR: Yeah, water, I can't remember the details.

MS. BLEED: Yeah, from the LB962 --

MR. BARR: Yeah.

MS. BLEED: -- and the water.

MR. BARR: So, there is a --

MS. BLEED: That was passed in the 19 --

MR. BARR: Yeah. There is a loosely --

MS. BLEED: -- 2004.

MR. BARR: -- devised, yet untested, mechanism. Whether it is adequate or not, I don't know.

MS. BLEED: Well, that brings up an interesting question and you're a good person to ask this question. Such things like that are tested if you have a person or a leader who pushes it to be tested, and a lot of times that's politically very difficult. Now, you've been around politics your whole life. Going back to the formation of the NRDS, obviously, there was opposition. What do you think was the thing that pushed the politics to actually get it through the legislature?

MR. BARR: Leadership and persistence. Warren Fairchild was certainly one. Clayton Yeutter and Nobby Tiemann were certainly involved. Jules Burbach and several of the legislators were strongly involved. The fact that Warren was at the commission and his staff. You basically need, I think, and you had that in the 90s when you had Mike Johanns as governor and you and Roger involved at state level and Senator Schrock from the legislative --

MS. BLEED: For the water policy task force, right?

MR. BARR: For the water policy task force group. You had a convergence of interest and leadership, I think. And I think we had that in the 60s and early 70s. It seems to wane from time to time, and hopefully we won't hit another period like that and have some more. And I was very impressed with Senator Carlson's being able to move the recent legislation through legislature.

MS. BLEED: And that's kind of a dance --

MR. BARR: And that was a -- Yes.

MS. BLEED: -- to some extent to make sure that you don't push it too hard or go too far.

MR. BARR: And you had help in other elements within a legislature, but also with other elements outside of the legislature. As you know, you were involved in a group that kind of explored some ideas that eventually kind of developed into the legislation. So, it's a combination of a number things, I think. It's probably not -- and, in this interview process, we've talked to people about why it happened in Nebraska and why it hasn't happened elsewhere. And, in retrospect, it was the time, perhaps one thing. Nebraska was coming out of a period of not much having happened for many years, and there was kind of a feeling of doing some things. And I think that was happening at the federal level too, because you saw a lot of creative things coming out of natural resources in the mid-60s. So, it's --

MS. BLEED: And of course, Nobby Tiemann was a --

MR. BARR: Yes.

MS. BLEED: -- strong leader --

MR. BARR: Yes.

MS. BLEED: -- to his detriment in the end.

MR. BARR: Well, yeah. I think he never -- I think originally he thought he probably was a one term-er, and then he got to thinking he would make it through. And pennies for Tiemann just did him in, as well as his happy farmer statement and some other things. But, he was certainly my favorite governor of the ones I've ever --

MS. BLEED: He got a lot done that's for sure.

MR. BARR: -- met. All though, we had some others interested in the -- Bob Crosby and Frank Morrison were always interested. You've no doubt heard their interplay with Frank asking Bob, “Why did they name the Republican River the Republican, was it because it was so shallow or so crooked?”

MS. BLEED: Wide, shallow, and crooked.

MR. BARR: So, anyhow, those guys were involved, were very interested in water and had a big role in it in later years. As did Val Peterson, who was, in fact, a board member of the Lower Elkhorn NRD on the first board. So, you've had several --

MS. BLEED: And Val Peterson had been a governor?

MR. BARR: He had been governor prior to Bob Crosby, yeah. He had then been, I think, ambassador to Denmark as I recall.

MS. BLEED: Well, Jim, I'm running out of questions. Is there anything else you can think of we should add?

MR. BARR: Well, I don't know. It's been an interesting process, doing these interviews. Steve Gaul and I and Rachael Herpel took advantage of Warren Fairchild being in Lincoln at a meeting in 1994.

MS. BLEED: And I'm so glad you did.

MR. BARR: And we did that interview. And I think that has probably been, was the basis for this whole project. Because, if we hadn't had that, I don't know that I would've probably pushed like --

MS. BLEED: And you were the one who really pushed this project?

MR. BARR: Probably.

MS. BLEED: Don't say probably. You were.

MR. BARR: Being more irritating than others, yes.

MS. BLEED: Yeah. You definitely saw the need for this project, and I think one of the things that's very exciting about this project is, you know, you talked about why didn't the other states do something like the NRDs. And my understanding is that there's a lot of interest now in the NRDs. And the reality is, from looking at things, like your reaction to that, it's not easy to do --

MR. BARR: No. No. No.

MS. BLEED: -- when you have everybody with their own turf and their own way of doing things.

MR. BARR: And in fact, we might not have done it had we had a bicameral election -- legislature.

MS. BLEED: Tell me about that.

MR. BARR: Well, I mean, you're familiar with the unicameral and how we can move things through one house. We are also non-partisan, at least on paper. There is an element of partisanship in it, but there's also an element of contrariness in it that allows people to not have to follow instructions from their party. And having worked in the House of Representatives for many years, you see a great deal of instruction coming down. Having worked for the White House, you see that you have daily talking points that you are all supposed to fall in line with. So, this has become a much more partisan atmosphere than I recall in my early years in state government. I've probably wandered off of your original question.

MS. BLEED: No. But, well, the original question, I guess, is we got it done.

MR. BARR: Yes. And it was close. I mean, I think, that last was one vote close. That was one vote close in the commission to even support it.

MS. BLEED: And if the governor had --

MR. BARR: Well, yeah.

MS. BLEED: -- vetoed it, it would have been done.

MR. BARR: Well, yeah. But, I mean, that was not an issue --

MS. BLEED: Yeah.

MR. BARR: -- because he was supportive of it throughout, and so was Clayton. And Clayton and, who was the -- now I can't think -- Larry Johnson was one of them and Dick Hoke (phonetic) was involved in the governor’s office. I can't remember all of them. And they had a lot of young people involved. In fact, they were the whiz-kids. Doug was one of them. And it was a different time, and I was kind of hoping, maybe in the -- I better just shut up.

MS. BLEED: No. What were you going to say? Hoping in the --

MR. BARR: In one of the last competitive gubernatorial races that a different person would've won, as I thought we might have went into a period of a little more progressive action at that point.

MS. BLEED: Enough said. Well, unless you have anything else you can think of --

MR. BARR: Well, if I do, I'll do it when I interview you.

MS. BLEED: Okay. That's fair enough. Thank you very much, Jim.

MR. BARR: Okay.