Groundwater levels continue to recover from drought of 2012

Each year, the Lower Elkhorn Natural Resources District (LENRD) collects static water levels from the irrigation wells in their observation well network.  Conducted every year since the mid 1970’s, the measurement of these wells provides a wealth of important data utilized by the LENRD to manage groundwater in northeast Nebraska.  LENRD Water Resources Technician, Josh Schnitzler, said, “When we collect the water elevation data each spring, it allows us to determine the amount of recovery in the aquifer system from the previous year’s irrigation season.”

The spring 2016 groundwater level report shows that 84% of the wells measured rose from last year.  In fact, 5% of the wells recorded their highest ever spring reading.  One percent of the wells (2 of 234) recorded their lowest ever spring reading.

The LENRD’s data shows that from 1975 to the present, groundwater elevation levels have generally remained fairly constant throughout the district.  However, there have been several periods (typically following periods of drought) where groundwater levels have developed downward linear trends.  Fortunately, those drought periods eased and we returned to more normal, or above normal, periods of precipitation.  Groundwater elevations responded positively and supplies have improved.

LENRD Water Resources Manager, Brian Bruckner, explains, “Yet while all of this information is important and valuable, it can sometimes be misleading.  While it does offer us data to verify the amount of groundwater in storage it doesn’t necessarily mean that all groundwater users will have sufficient amounts of groundwater if and when the demand peaks.”  Depending upon the location, the amount of recovery is somewhat delayed due to the physical properties that exist within the aquifer.

Schnitzler added, “When looking at the data that has been collected over the past four decades, the in-season demands that cause the water levels to drop substantially is what we are most concerned about.  The geology of our district is very challenging.”

LENRD General Manager, Mike Sousek, said, “The groundwater resources that lie beneath our State are vast, but also vulnerable.  Even small changes in groundwater levels can have profound impacts.  Our water levels tend to bounce back in the spring, but that doesn’t give us the full picture.  There are in-season trends that need to be addressed, especially after the drought of 2012.”

The LENRD currently has an observation well network of 240 wells across 15-counties in Northeast Nebraska.  The wells were measured this spring and the report can be found below.  Reports from previous years can be found on the water resources page.

Spring 2016 - water level map

Spring 2016 report