LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Nebraska water regulators are rallying behind a proposal to build a $500 million canal in neighboring Colorado to divert water out of the South Platte River, a project steeped in fears that the fast-growing Denver area will consume most of the river’s water.

Tom Riley, director of the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources testifies in front of the Natural Resources Committee during a hearing on LB1015 at the Nebraska State Capitol in Lincoln, Neb. on Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2022. (Lily Smith/Omaha World-Herald via AP)

Leaders from Nebraska’s irrigation and natural resources districts cast the plan as a crucial step to preserve as much of the state’s water supply as possible.

Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts identified it as a top priority, arguing that not moving forward would eventually cost Nebraska billions as farms, cities and other water users struggle with shortages.

Colorado officials say they don’t fully understand Nebraska’s concerns, noting that they’ve always complied with the compact.