Protecting our groundwater is a matter of local control

The Lower Elkhorn Natural Resources District (LENRD) Board of Directors approved changes to its Groundwater Management Area rules and regulations that now require LENRD approved flow meters on all active irrigation wells within the district by January 1, 2018.  The LENRD has approved five flow meters for installation.

The LENRD promotes technology as a tool to help with water efficiency.  The flow meters, in conjunction with technology, provide a complete package that also accounts for water management.  Technology alone does not provide the management component needed for a limited resource like water.  During times of prolonged drought, soil moisture probes will continually tell you to apply water, even after the aquifer that is the source of the water is depleted.  In 2012, these very conditions existed causing district-wide problems with water shortages.  LENRD General Manager Mike Sousek, said, “The meter may not be the best tool for efficiency, but it’s the only tool that measures water accurately.  These measurements can be used to defend the district from outside pressures downstream, or can be used in allocations when the water resource must be shared and shared alike.” 

The aquifer system in northeast Nebraska has shown a propensity to recover from seasonal demands.  Static water levels do return to predevelopment levels in the spring of most years.  However, the district has seen that over periods of time dealing with continued drought (such as from 2002 to 2006), the aquifer system does not return to predevelopment levels but rather starts a downward trend suggesting mining of water is occurring.  For this resource to be around for future generations, proper management frameworks must be in place to counteract water mining and to protect the very geology that allows for the storage of water.  LENRD Water Resources Manager, Brian Bruckner, said, “In-season declines and their negative impacts to all groundwater users are something that can never be represented or predicted by only looking at static water levels.  A spike in water use, and the overlapping cones of depression that can develop after prolonged pumping, caused in-season shortages to occur during 2012, even in areas where water levels had recorded all-time record highs in the spring of 2010.  Spring water levels are a necessity and a valuable resource for the district, but they are representative of our groundwater conditions when the system is essentially ‘at rest’ and supply is at its greatest.  It is a snapshot in time. I would also point out the recent legislative efforts in California to address the groundwater mining that is occurring in that state.  My interpretation of their future plan is that they have adopted the Nebraska model for future management.  The value of the NRD system and local control is priceless.”  Bruckner added, “There hasn’t been any other organization that has been a stronger advocate for groundwater users in this state than the NRDs.”

Installing meters ensures everyone's water usage is measured accurately and equitably.  This will protect all groundwater users the next time we have a shortage of water.  LENRD board member, Joel Hansen of Wayne, said, “A water meter doesn't vary depending upon well pressure.  It leaves no legal avenue to challenge a regulation on how much water is pumped because it measures exactly what passed through the pipe over a given period of time.  As we continue to develop this precious resource those given the responsibility by the State of Nebraska to manage groundwater, the NRDs, need to be prepared to ensure everyone has the ability to flush their toilet, bathe in their own house, and drink their own water.  The Groundwater Ethic must be more than just words and good intentions.  The cost of using that groundwater must include the costs to share it.”

LENRD Board Chairman, Danny Kluthe of Dodge, added, “The meters are a management tool for drought years, they allow continued expansion of irrigated acres, and they provide hard data to defend the district from outside influences who do not have the interest of northeast Nebraska in mind.  Which is why local control is so important.”  He continued, “We can continue to highlight the differences between efficiency and management.  While efficiency is important, the responsibility of the district is to manage groundwater.”  

“The NRDs have been keeping Nebraska local since 1972.”  Sousek continued, “The locally-led districts play a vital role in the checks and balances of water regulation in our state.  We take that responsibility seriously and are diligent in making sure our water resources – and all natural resources – are used wisely and are protected for future use by generations of Nebraskans.”  He said, “The NRDs have been very effective in protecting the lives and property of our constituents and the future of our natural resources that are so important to the quality of life we enjoy in Nebraska.”

“The LENRD encourages all those effected by groundwater (all of us) to participate in the meetings and discussions that have been happening for the past 44 years.”  Sousek, said, “As we come to have a better understanding of the characteristics of our geology, the capacity of our water, the problems that have been experienced throughout the nation, and our ability to learn lessons from other districts around us, our groundwater management plan will continue to evolve.  Requiring meters happens to be the latest evolution of a document that will continue to change as our world changes.  I would encourage the public to continue to learn about this issue, to engage with the LENRD to fully appreciate all the various aspects that must be considered when managing water - a precious and valuable resource.  It’s the very thing providing life to everything that northeast Nebraska has grown to love.”