Groundwater Management

Changes to Groundwater Management Area approved in August 2018

The Lower Elkhorn Natural Resources District (LENRD) held an Open House Public Hearing on Thursday, July 26th from 5-7 p.m. at their new office at 1508 Square Turn Boulevard in Norfolk.  The purpose of the hearing was to receive public comment on proposed amendments to the district's Groundwater Management Area Rules & Regulations. The comments were collected and reviewed by the board and the changes were approved at the August 23rd Board of Directors meeting. The changes to the area became effective October 15th, 2018 - see map below.

The LENRD has been monitoring the groundwater across their 15 counties for over 40 years.  In the early ‘90s, a Groundwater Management Plan was established to protect the resource for future generations.  As the monitoring continued, elevated levels of nitrates were detected in portions of Pierce County.  The initial Groundwater Management Plan contained language that informed both the Board of Directors and the general public, of the triggers and potential controls that could be imposed within a Groundwater Management Area, using a phased approach to managing the resource.  Years have passed, and the nitrate levels in some areas are not declining, and additional portions of the District are experiencing elevated groundwater nitrates, including northern Madison County, even with Best Management Practices in place.  High nitrates in our drinking water can have negative health impacts, and some communities within the area have been required to invest significant financial resources to upgrade their infrastructure in order to deliver a safe, reliable source of drinking water.  Therefore, the LENRD proposed these changes to the Groundwater Management Area in an effort to keep the nitrate levels from increasing.


Phase Area Controls - changes in red

Crop Year 2018 Report Form -Phase 2 & 3

Reporting Forms are due March 15, 2019

Fact Sheets - Open House Public Hearing

Subarea Information

Bazile Groundwater Management Area

The Bazile Groundwater Management Area is a multi-agency partnership focused on mitigating excessive groundwater nitrates in portions of Antelope, Knox, and Pierce Counties. Formed in 2013 by the Lewis & Clark NRD, Lower Elkhorn NRD, Upper Elkhorn NRD, Lower Niobrara NRD, and the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality, the partners have leveraged numerous funding sources to incentivize the adoption of Best Management Practices to protect and improve groundwater quality.

For more information about the BGMA, contact:

Phil Steinkamp


Groundwater Management Area

The Lower Elkhorn NRD has established a groundwater management area to improve and protect groundwater quality in the district.

"This will be accomplished by minimizing the impact of agricultural chemicals on groundwater by encouraging, and in some cases requiring, the use of wise management practices," says Brian Bruckner, Assistant General Manager.

The Lower Elkhorn NRD has followed the lead of other NRDs in the state that have established groundwater management areas in the development of the various components of the project.

One of the major components of the groundwater management area is a phased approach of regulation that requires varying degrees of reporting and best management practice use.

According to Bruckner, each phase has a unique set of requirements for farmers.

They are as follows:

Phase Boundaries

Phase 1 -- Areas that are not designated as either Phase 2 or Phase 3.

Phase 2 -- Areas that have from 50% to 90% of the Maximum Contaminant Level for a contaminant (5 to 9 ppm of nitrate-nitrogen), or are vulnerable to groundwater contamination, or have vadose zone contamination that indicates a potential for groundwater contamination, or are in the recharge areas for public supply wells, or are areas with similar soil and land use conditions as an existing Phase 2 or 3 area. Phase 2 areas must be a minimum of 10 square miles in size.

Phase 3 -- Areas with greater than 90% of the Maximum Contaminant Level for a contaminant (9 ppm of nitrate-nitrogen), or are vulnerable to groundwater contamination, or have vadose zone contamination that indicates a potential for groundwater contamination, or are in the recharge areas for public supply wells, or are areas with similar soil and land use conditions as an existing Phase 3 area. Phase 3 areas must be a minimum of 10 square miles in size.

Phase 1 Controls

  1. Persons installing new or replacement wells with a capacity greater than 50 gallons per minute must obtain a permit from the NRD.

  2. The district will encourage operators to attend certification classes for fertilizer and irrigation water management, to perform deep soil testing for residual nutrients, to test irrigation water for nutrients and to submit an annual report of fertilizer application to the district.

  3. The district will also encourage operators to use nitrification inhibitors or split application of nitrogen fertilizers and to not apply nitrogen fertilizer in the fall or winter.

Phase 2 Controls

  1. All Phase 1 requirements

  2. No commercial fertilizer application between October 15 and March 15

  3. All operators using commercial or organic fertilizers must be certified by the district.

  4. Irrigation water must be tested for nitrate-nitrogen once every four years.

  5. Soil must be tested for residual nitrogen content to a 2 foot depth each year in which a non-legume, annual row crops will be planted for at least the second consecutive year (for example, a corn-on-corn rotation).

  6. All operators applying fertilizer must submit a report to the district every year (due March 15th).

Phase 3 Controls

  1. All Phase 1 & 2 requirements

  2. Application of 80 or more pounds of commercial nitrogen per acre after March 15th is prohibited, unless inhibitor is used.

  3. Irrigation scheduling is required.

Phase 4 Controls

  1. Continue Phase 3 requirements, except change to annual irrigation water sampling.

  2. Nitrogen application rate not to exceed rate calculated using district methodology.

  3. Comply with district approved crop rotation plan.

  4. Must grow cover crops.

  5. Provide receipts, acres treated, and total amount of nitrogen applied.

  6. Documentation to support 5-year average production history to support calculation methodology.

Recommended Management Measures

  1. Use of flow meters on wells (see list of approved flow meters)

  2. Eliminate fall and/or winter fertilizer application or include the use of a nitrification inhibitor.

  3. Spring applications of commercial fertilizer should be split (preplant and sidedress) or include a nitrification inhibitor.

  4. Analyze contaminant sources such as manure

  5. Prepare and implement a plan for manure disposal

Reasoning for Management Phases

"The use of several phases allows the district to adapt different requirements to assorted conditions," Bruckner says. "The requirements for an area may change, either becoming more strict when conditions worsen or lenient when conditions improve," Bruckner added.

The designated boundaries for the phases of the groundwater management area may follow either natural or political boundaries. The boundaries may be drawn around existing problem areas or potentially vulnerable areas.

Bruckner says that determining the mechanism for boundary setting is a very important part of establishing a groundwater management area.

The combination of controls required in each phase should address the problems associated with that phase of the project and will be voted on by the board.

Public comments on the groundwater management plan are welcome at any time. Please contact the district if you would like additional information on this issue or would like a district representative to speak to your group.