Groundwater Management addressed during three public hearings

The Lower Elkhorn Natural Resources District (LENRD) held three public hearings during their December board meeting to address modifications to their Rules and Regulations for Management of Groundwater, changes to the LENRD Groundwater Management Plan, and to certify irrigated acres.

The first hearing was to accept public comment on changes to the Rules and Regulations for Management of Groundwater which modified the controls in place for any Phase 2 or Phase 3 Area in the LENRD, and establishes a set of controls for a Phase 4 Area, with all changes intended to provide greater protection of groundwater quality in the LENRD.  The proposed changes will add the prohibition of fall and winter application of commercial nitrogen to fields within the Phase 2 Area between the dates of October 15 and March 15 to further reduce the chance of nitrate-nitrogen leaching into the groundwater.  Although there are currently no areas in the LENRD that are designated as Phase 3 Areas, the changes include a requirement to prohibit the application of more than 80 pounds of commercial nitrogen without the use of a district-approved nitrification inhibitor after March 15 of each year.  The producer also has the option of splitting their nitrogen applications into multiple applications to avoid this requirement.  If an inhibitor is used, proof of such use must be submitted to the district annually.  LENRD Water Resources Manager, Brian Bruckner, said, “The changes also establish a set of controls for a Phase 4 Area, which can be implemented by the Board of Directors in areas with acute groundwater contamination conditions.”  The controls for a Phase 4 Area include: annual deep soil testing for nitrate-nitrogen when planting a non-legume crop (such as corn), proof of APH (actual production history) for determination of yield goals and verification of nitrogen budgets, annual sampling of irrigation wells for nitrate-nitrogen and required use of cover crops to sequester residual crop nutrients.

The next hearing was held to certify irrigated acres across the district.  767 tracts of land were certified as irrigated acres.  Approximately 88% of the district’s acres are now certified.  The next irrigated acre certification hearing will be held on March 23rd at the LENRD office in Norfolk.

The third hearing was to allow changes to be made to the Groundwater Management Plan to include the requirement of flow meter installation on high capacity wells classified for use as: public water supply wells, commercial wells, industrial wells, livestock wells, or any wells that are designed to pump more than 50 gallons per minute.  Bruckner added, “This is the first step in a two-step process to implement this requirement.  The next step will be to develop language for the Rules and Regulations for Management of Groundwater to spell out the specifics of this new requirement.”

The 2017 allocation rates were also set at the December meeting.  Each year, the board must determine the annual groundwater allocation amounts for the Wayne and Madison County Quantity Management Subareas for the upcoming crop year.  The staff recommended using the same amounts for the 2017 season.  Bruckner, said, “These allocation amounts are the same as 2016.  We are continuing to develop the framework for further expansion of irrigated acres in defined areas within the district by 2018.”

In other business, the board approved a proposal from the Nebraska Game & Parks Commission to proceed with a Bathymetric Survey of the Willow Creek reservoir.  LENRD Assistant General Manager, Ken Berney, said, “The survey will help to design potential habitat projects, and also focus on the sedimentation rate of the reservoir.  The data will be very useful in planning for the future of the recreation area.”

The next board meeting will be held on Thursday, January 26th at 7:30 p.m.