Thursday, December 29, 2016

BLOG: 10 from 2016

by Jennifer Wemhoff, The Groundwater Foundation

The door is about to close on 2016. Here's a look back on 10 things that happened at The Groundwater Foundation this year:

1. Our mission was revamped and refocused: We connect people, businesses, and communities through local groundwater education and action, making us all part of the solution for clean, sustainable groundwater.

2. Amazing volunteer teams across the U.S. were recognized for local, proactive efforts to educate their communities and protect groundwater through the Groundwater Guardian program.

3. The Nebraska MEDS (Medication Education on Disposal Strategies) Coalition, which The Groundwater Foundation is a founding member, worked with nearly 300 pharmacies across Nebraska to take back thousands of pounds of unwanted or expired medication for proper disposal, keeping them out of water supplies.

4. The Hydrogeology Challenge event created for Science OIympiad (SO) was featured in the 2016 National Tournament. The Challenge has been adapted for use in classrooms and extracurricular activities beyond SO.

5. Two new members joined The Groundwater Foundation's board of directors, Chris Barnett of the Marion County Wellfield Education Corporation in Indianapolis, IN and Kirk Welch of the North Plains Groundwater Conservation District in Dumas, TX.

6. The Groundwater Foundation's Twitter account topped 4,300 followers, and Facebook went over 2,300. We also ventured into the world of Instagram.

7. The Awesome Aquifer Kit was adopted as part of the K-5 science curriculum in The Groundwater Foundation's hometown school system, Lincoln Public Schools. 

8. A new collaboration with University of Nebraska-Lincoln's Science Literacy includes The Groundwater Foundation as part of an effort to educate secondary educators.

9. Green spaces across the U.S. participated in the Green Site program and received designation for managing their site with groundwater in mind.

10. Sara Brock joined the groundwater team as Program Manager, heading up the Groundwater Guardian program, youth programs, and others.

We're glad to have you as a partner in our mission and in protecting groundwater. Cheers to groundwater in 2017!

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

It's Water-Wise Wednesday with Frannie the Fish {New Year Resolution}

It's almost time to don your party hat and start the countdown to the beginning of 2017! With New Years around the corner Frannie is trying to think of a groundwater-related New Years resolution. She challenges you to do the same!

Frannie's resolution is to personally conserve more water in 2017. This past summer, Frannie used The Groundwater Foundation's 30by30 app to learn how to reduce her daily water use by 30 gallons a day for 30 days, but now she wants to reduce even more! She is going to use the app to reduce her daily water use by 40 gallons

Here are a few ways Frannie will accomplish her New Years resolution:
  • Turn the water off while she brushes her teeth 
  • Only run the dishwasher when it is full

  • Take 5 minute showers

Can you think of other ways Frannie can save water everyday?

Share your water-related New Years resolution!

Have a happy and safe New Year! 

Friday, December 16, 2016

BLOG: The Holy River

by Sara Brock, The Groundwater Foundation


My friend and guide,
Praveen, in Pashupatinath
Nepal is a very spiritual country.  As I walked the cold, crowded streets in January, I saw little shrines dotting the streets, often smeared with a dye made of semi-crushed flower petals in bright red and yellow hues. Larger Hindu temples, the ones the massive 2015 earthquake missed, stood tall and ornate. Among the grandest of these temples, and certainly the most important temple dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva, is Pashupatinath (Pa-shoo-pa-tea-not), located on the banks of the holy Bagmati River in the Kathmandu Valley.

Shiva is the Hindu Supreme Being of creation, destruction, and transformation. Believers come to Pashupatinath to pray and help their deceased relatives achieve nirvana by cremating the bodies in a special ritual beside the river. Once the ritual is complete, the ashes are brushed into the Bagmati River which is believed to have the power to purify, ensuring that the spirit is fully released from the body.  

These rituals are performed every day of the year from sun up to sun down. Families bring their dead from thousands of miles away, some even from India, to take part in this special ritual. The air is thick with ash and oil. My friends and I sat and sneezed out black mucus, watching as more and more ashes were pushed into the river. On top of this, the water continues to flow slowly through the city, used upstream and downstream for drinking, bathing, irrigation, and dumping trash and untreated sewage1.

Women basket-fishing from the river.
It seems counterintuitive to use a holy river with little regard to environmental or health concerns and indeed; Nepali citizens are starting to recognize and react to the hazards of indiscriminant disposal. However, for centuries, the river had provided clean, accessible water to the dry and mountainous region. The Kathmandu Valley was a resource hub and quickly drew a large population along the Bagmati’s banks. Hindus and Buddhists alike worshipped the river, sourced from a trinity of headwaters from the Himalaya and Green Mountain Ranges to the north and seasonal monsoons. 

In the 70s, a huge spike in urbanization driven by economic opportunity caused Kathmandu to quickly develop the infrastructure necessary to support the population surge2. Unfortunately, the city skipped over many steps that have since negatively affected public and environmental health, like sanitary disposal of human and industrial waste. With more and more people to provide resources for, the government focused on source augmentation rather than sewage transportation and treatment systems. However, thanks to increased education and cooperation from world health and environmental organizations, many point source polluters have since been shut down and the Bagmati has gotten a second chance3.

Nepali people may have prioritized their personal and spiritual water needs over the long-term conservation of the Bagmati, but they have never ignored its importance. On Saturdays, the national holy day of rest, a group of about 100 Kathmandu residents gather to pick up and properly dispose of the trash on the riverbank. As it gets progressively cleaner, locals appreciate the symbolic river and take more care to dump their trash in a designated area4. The river moves a little more swiftly and is transforming the countryside after the destructive aftermath of the earthquake. So while Pashupatinath continues to cremate the honorable dead and the valley reconstructs, Nepal now has the momentum and hope to restore purity to its holy river.

The earthquake shelters are now shrines of the country's
national pride, love for each other, and restored faith.

Sources
1. Keane, Katrina. “Suitably Modern.” KATRINA KEANE, 13 Apr. 2013, katrinakeane.com/abstract/.
2. Platman, Lauren, "From Holy to Holistic: Working Towards Integrated Management of the Bagmati River Corridor" (2014). Independent Study Project (ISP) Collection. Paper 1808
3. Bhaduri, Amita. “Living Rivers, Dying Rivers: Bagmati River in Nepal.” India Water Portal, Arghyam Initiative, 1 May 2012, www.indiawaterportal.org/articles/living-rivers-dying-rivers-bagmati-river-nepal.
4. Jenkins, Clare. “Bagmati River Story.” Kathmandu Post, Ekantipur, 24 June 2016, kathmandupost.ekantipur.com/printedition/news/2016-06-24/bagmati-river-story.html.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

It's Water-Wise Wednesday with Frannie the Fish! {Holiday Upcycling: Coffee Can Decor}

Frannie was bummed that her favorite coffee containers were not recyclable. So she decided to upcycle them instead! There are so many different ways to use an upcycled coffee container. Frannie could make a vase, a storage place for pens and pencils, some lovely holiday decor, or even a cute container to wrap gifts in! This week Frannie is going to show you how to upcycle a coffee container!

Want to learn why Frannie is doing an upcycling project this week? Check out the Upcycled Clothing Pin Snowflake Ornament blog here.


Here's what you need:
  • A coffee can
  • Scissors
  • Glue
  • Craft supplies: ribbon, paint, sequins, glitter, stickers, etc.
Here's what you do:
1. Find an empty coffee can. You can choose to keep the lid or recycle the lid if possible. Frannie decided to recycle her lid since she won't be using it.


2. Decorate your coffee can! Use whatever craft supplies you have to decorate your coffee can. Frannie wrapped some string around her can to create a neat effect.


3. Once you like the way your coffee can looks, you are done! Congratulations! Go ahead and re-purpose your can as a vase, holiday decoration, storage container, or whatever you like like!



For more fun!
Add labels! Decorate several coffee cans and add a label to each describing what item you wish to store inside them.

Share photos of your upcycled coffee can decor here!

Frannie wishes you a fun and safe holiday season!  

Friday, December 9, 2016

BLOG: 6 Tips for a Greener, Simpler Christmas

by Jennifer Wemhoff, The Groundwater Foundation

Christmas is one of my favorite times of year. There's so much to enjoy. But it seems that the holidays often come with a lot of excess - too much food, too much stress, too many gifts to buy, too much to do, too much stuff, etc. How can we simplify?

Simplifying the holidays will not only benefit your sanity, but the environment. Here are six simple ways to simplify this holiday season and reduce the impact on the environment:

1. Scale back the holiday lights.
You don't need to outdo the neighbors extravagant display that's set to music. A simple wreath or lit garland add a nice touch to your home, and will take minutes instead of hours to put up. If a big display is your thing, use LED lights and save on energy use and put a few more dollars back in your pocket. Use a timer to set the on/off times to make sure they don't twinkle all night.

2. Gifts don't have to be "things." Give the gift of time, experiences, or a donation.
It's easy to get caught up in buying things for our loved ones during the holidays. But don't we all have enough stuff? Instead, think about meaningful alternatives. Give your spouse or kids a coupon book filled with fun things to do - a nature walk, trip to the park or library, baking cookies together, etc. Tickets to a favorite show, concert, or event; zoo or museum memberships; or a gift card for a massage are great alternatives to another tie or Christmas towel. Or consider a donation to the recipient's favorite charity (if they don't have a favorite, The Groundwater Foundation is a good one!).

3. Find alternatives to gift wrapping.
Reuse those gift bags and bows from last year. Gift bags are a snap to assemble and much easier than wrapping an oddly-shaped item. Encourage your gift recipients to reuse them for future gifts. If you like to wrap, look for wrapping paper made using recycled content. Avoid foil/metallic paper, as it's difficult to recycle. Upcycle paper you have around the house into one-of-a-kind masterpieces. Have the kids decorate old newspaper, scrap paper, paper grocery bags, or any other paper for a fun art project and quality time with you. Or channel your inner child and have fun yourself! 

4. Limit your travel plans.
This one is hard, as family is important during the holidays. But between all the shopping and visiting, parties and other activities, we drive more and burn more gas. Organize video chats to "see" family members. Consolidate your travel as much as possible, or just stay home in your pajamas and watch Christmas movies.

5. Make your holiday meal(s) low impact.
Buy local as much as possible. Skip disposable dinnerware and bring out the china and cloth napkins (this may go against the idea of simplifying - but enlist your guests' help and have a group dishwashing and drying session after the meal). Compost any food scraps. Send leftovers home with your guests, or keep them yourself and save yourself from cooking for a few days.

6. Slow down and enjoy the season!
Christmas comes but once a year. It's ok to say no to yet another holiday party or outing. It's ok to focus on the small things that make this time of year magical. Give yourself permission to just be this holiday season, and enjoy it.

It's a process to change our thinking about the holidays. Each year I try to simplify, but find myself falling into the trap of excess. I hope we can all focus on having a greener, simpler Christmas this year.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

BLOG: Thankful and Committed to Connections

by Jane Griffin, Groundwater Foundation President

Connections not only nurture us, they
assist us in getting things done.
It is widely documented the importance of connection – it is an innate human need that, when fulfilled, improves our life. Connections not only nurture us, they assist us in getting things done. 

This is the approach we use at The Groundwater Foundation. It is something we believe in so strongly that we have put it at the center of our new mission

We connect people, businesses and communities through local groundwater education and action, making us all part of the solution for clean, sustainable groundwater.

Over our 30+ years we have witnessed the strength, success and overall great satisfaction that is achieved through our community-based groundwater protection and education. In fact, our Groundwater Guardian teams connect different sectors of their local community to get the important work done. Communities across the nation are connected in order to share, learn and celebrate their successes. We are committed to growing and strengthening our Groundwater Guardian program so that we can move closer to our vision:

A network of people, businesses and communities proactively protecting groundwater for sustainable use today and tomorrow.

So, let’s keep in mind how important it is to connect within our communities to the people and businesses that can help us as we work to protect our life-sustaining water.  And let’s remember that what we do matters:

It’s the water we drink.  It’s the water that grows our food.  It’s the water that sustains our lives and livelihoods.

Sara Brock
In order to do this the best way possible – to focus our attention on furthering the work of connecting – we have also made some changes internally. 

I would like to introduce you to our new team member: Sara Brock. Sara joined our team as an intern this summer. One of the projects Sara has been working on is creating a story bank, so she has already connected with many Groundwater Guardians. This will continue as she will be doing a lot more with our Groundwater Guardians.  

I would also like to salute some of The Groundwater Foundation’s longtime champions: Cindy Kreifels, Lori Davison and Doug Sams.  Each of them dedicated so much to our organization. They connected with our Groundwater Guardians, our program partners, our members. Those connections are deep and meaningful, and we thank them for their excellent service and count on the connection continuing as they take on their new paths.

Let’s keep connecting.  Let’s keep the important work happening! 

May you have a Happy, Connected Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 17, 2016

BLOG: A Day in the Life of a Consulting Geologist

by Karen Griffin, Vice President, Olsson Associates


It is 6:30 a.m. and today I’m off to Riverton, Wyoming, to attend the annual conference for Conservation Districts. This is the first time I’ve been to this conference, and I’m excited to see some of the clients we’ve been working with and return to the only state in the country with a cowboy on its license plate. My mention of the cowboy will become abundantly clear as I describe one day on a recent trip to Wyoming. It was one of the most memorable days I’ve ever had as a consulting geologist.

For the past year and a half, we have been working on a watershed study for the Wyoming Water Development Commission (WWDC) and the Teton Conservation District (TCD) in Jackson, Wyoming. Yes, the study area includes the Grand Tetons, Bridger-Teton National Forest, portions of Yellowstone National Park and the entire National Elk Refuge. The watershed is 1.7 million acres of land in the center of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, the largest intact ecosystem in the lower 48 – not to mention it includes one of the country’s most iconic mountain ranges. One that takes your breath away each and every time you see it.

The Grand Tetons at Grand Teton National Park
As I’ve headed out west to complete the project, I’ve had a lot of volunteers who wanted to join the project team. Who wouldn’t want to go to Jackson Hole every two months to see the seasons change across the amazing landscape?! And, luckily for us all, the scope of the project is almost as vast as the landscape and so I have been able to bring out several of our best scientists and engineers to help complete the project.

The team visiting Jenny Lake after meeting with the National Park Service at Grand Teton National Park. From left to right, Joan Darling, PhD (our wetlands and permitting expert), me, Jodee Pring (River Basin Planning Supervisor for the WWDC), and Brian Degen, PE (our irrigation engineer).
We were hired by the WWDC and the TCD to complete a Level I watershed study. A Level I watershed study is holistic evaluation of an area that is interconnected by water. The study evaluates the current condition of an area and looks at opportunities for water improvement projects that will restore, maintain, and enhance healthy watershed function. Specifically, a Level I watershed study looks for projects, programs, or activities that support sustainable, beneficial water use for current and future watershed residents – be they human, animal, or plant.

To learn the issues facing the water users in the district, we held public meetings in the town of Jackson and in the small community of Moran near the south entrance to Yellowstone. At the meetings, we heard from ranchers, land managers, wildlife conservationists, and the urban and rural residents about their issues with both drought and flooding. The summer of 2016 was no exception with dry conditions causing three major fires in the watershed. You may have heard about the Berry Fire that was reported on the national news because it closed the southern entrance to Yellowstone for several weeks. Conversely, in the winter, ice jams form in Flat Creek and they block the water flow through Jackson causing winter flooding in the residential and commercial parts of town. Water issues not only affect tourism and the urban residents; we heard from many of the local ranchers about the need to upgrade the irrigation systems that supply water to the green pastures that feed both livestock and wildlife across the watershed.

The greatest thing about these Level I watershed studies is that we start the project by completing a description and inventory of the watershed.  At the same time, we hold public meetings and go out to see the issues first hand. So the project team gets to see the big picture of the watershed as a whole by developing a series of GIS maps that document, for example, the geology, soils, land use, wetlands and sensitive habitats. And we also get to go see “the boulder that destroyed the headgate on our irrigation canal.” We then put together conceptual plans and cost estimates for the water improvements identified by the residents and stewards of the land.

Here is a prime example of the irrigation system improvement needs in the Upper Snake River Watershed. The Jensen Creek diversion used to provide water to several ranches just south of the Teton Village ski resort. The irrigation structure was crushed by a gigantic boulder during a debris flow. We prepared a conceptual plan and cost estimate for a replacement structure downstream this site.
That gigantic boulder was a pretty amazing thing to see, but the day I wanted to tell you about started at a public meeting at Fire Station #4 in Moran. We held a public meeting to find out what types of water improvement projects were needed in the northern part of the watershed. Several local ranchers came to hear what the study was about and realized that the issues they had with deteriorating and inefficient irrigation systems may be eligible for funding through the WWDC Small Water Project Program. Mort Yoakum, manager of the historic Pinto Ranch, invited me to come visit the ranch the next day. Before he left he asked me one question: “Do you know how to ride a horse?” 

I met him at the ranch headquarters the next morning where we loaded up two horses to ride across the pastures that needed irrigation system improvements. As we rode across the ranch, Mort told me the story of how the ranch was homesteaded and how at one time ran 2,000 head of cattle across this area. He showed me the flood irrigation ditches that crisscross the landscape. Some ditches were dug over 100 years ago, and we talked about some options that could be proposed to help improve water delivery, while improving water conservation. I asked him why he didn’t use ATVs to get around the ranch like so many ranchers do these days. He explained the ditches were too wide and deep in places for the ATVs to cross but the horses can jump across them easily. Next thing you know, he led us across a ditch and, yes, my horse easily leapt across without hesitating!

Mort Yoakum, manager of the Pinto Ranch takes me across their allotment on the Elk Ranch located in the northeast corner of Grand Teton National Park. The Tetons were covered in a haze that day because the Berry Fire was burning at the entrance to Yellowstone.
With that, I’ll leave you with my favorite picture of Mort, pointing to the main irrigation ditch as he described where he needed the water to feed his cattle, the antelope, and the heard of over 800 wild buffalo that share the natural resources of this area. 

Sunrise on the Elk Ranch at Grand Teton National Park discussing more efficient ways to deliver water to the cattle and wildlife that depend on this most precious resource. Yep, those are my horse’s ears in the foreground; we had a fantastic ride that morning.
Some days I wonder how I could be so lucky to have a job where I get to try to help folks find ways to conserve and protect this most precise resource – the interconnected groundwater and surface water that define this watershed. Especially when it means taking a ride across this iconic landscape with a rancher who is trying to maintain the legacy of a historic ranch while at the same time, preserving the natural resources that nourish a part of the greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

____________________

About the Author
Karen Griffin is a professional geologist managing multidisciplinary projects focused in the fields of geology and hydrogeology.  She began her career in environmental geology in Santa Barbara, CA and moved to Boulder, CO to take a position as project manager for the restoration and cleanup of a 27 square mile superfund site called the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge. She moved back to her home town in 2004 and is currently a Vice President and the Groundwater Technical Leader for Olsson Associates in Lincoln, Nebraska. Reach her at kgriffin@olssonassociates.com

Friday, November 11, 2016

BLOG: A Day in the Life of a Water Well Contactor

by Lee Orton, Nebraska Well Drillers Association and Groundwater Foundation Board Member

The day of a water well contractor varies. But every two years, licensed Nebraska water well contractors are required to take 12 hours of continuing education. The Nebraska Well Drillers Association puts on various seminars, workshops and outdoor classes through the two-year cycle.  

In 2016, one of the days of a water well contractor was spent at a class held just outside of Lincoln, Nebraska on land owned by the Lower Platte South Natural Resources District (LPSNRD), the local water resources management district. The class was done through a joint effort of the Nebraska Well Drillers Association, LPSNRD,  Baroid, Nebraska Heath and Human Services, drill manufacturer Gefco, and member drilling contractor Downey Drilling.  

The day included a well being drilled using an air foam concept. In this drilling process, a foam mix is placed into the well as the drill proceeds down. The foam then brings the cuttings up and out of the well. The foam mix proved to be a method to be used when conditions require something other than a traditional mud drilling medium due to special material geology or other characteristic because of environmental conditions. Unfortunately, the water was not usable due to high salt content. It was planned to be used to water livestock, but the water quality meant the well had to be decommissioned. 

The day was a learning experience either way.






About the Author 
Lee Orton's entire professional career has been established and directed to service for clients involved in water resources professions. His early work with the State of Nebraska related to water resources planning. His clients represent a wide range of groundwater professionals, and working with them for over four decades has demonstrated to him the real importance of public education about groundwater. 

Thursday, November 3, 2016

BLOG: A Commodity Easier to Say Than Find (水)

by Sara Brock, Groundwater Foundation Intern            

The word for “water” in Mandarin is 水 (pronounced “shway”).  It is a relatively easy character to pronounce and write, earning its place as the third word I’d learned, preceded by “Hello” and “Thank you”, since stepping into the Beijing airport. Having just recently graduated with no immediate plan beyond a general desire to travel and study the environment, I spent my first post-grad year teaching English at a university in a small city about three hours north of Beijing.  The Chengde municipal area is home to less than 4 million laid out amidst geography reminiscent of rural Appalachia and cutting through city proper is 武烈河, or the WuLie (woo lee-ah) River.  Along its slow-moving and marshy banks, you are likely to find small plots of crops, fishermen, and clumps of mucky, shiny chips wrappers. Odors from rotting fish, spilled fuel, and human waste rise from the waters to assault your eyes and nose, sticking to your clothing to remind you of where you’ve been.  Sewer systems lack proper ventilation and treatment.  Seepage and sickness are very real threats.

Even more threatening than the smells and sights of water contamination in China (and, in my experience, many Asian countries), is the apathetic attitude towards the root of the problem.  Hebei Province, where Chengde is located, is known for its aggressive restoration of its temperate forests as the federal government strives to make up for copious air pollution created by industries in Beijing and, one of the smoggiest cities in the world, Shijiazhuang.  To their credit, it is a supremely necessary step in their path towards sustainability and their success is found in the blue skies that, more often than not, peak through the skyscrapers on cold winter days.  However, for the privilege of clean running water that most Americans enjoy, simply planting trees is not enough.

It’s a self-destructive spiral. The water isn’t clean, so large jugs of filtered drinking water are cheap and readily available. Recycling, at least rurally, is not widely accessible, much less understood, so all that plastic becomes trash.  Waste disposal tends to be seen as someone else’s job, so littering and the dumping of oils and bio-waste is frequent and geographically random. Government vehicles keep streets and sidewalks clean by sweeping and spraying haphazardly disposed items into the sewers.  Sewer systems may or may not be treated before dumping their contents into the river, making the water unclean. Many rural communities are now unable to use shallower aquifers for their wells and have turned to digging deeper wells, taxing the capacity of remaining clean groundwater sources.

This is not to say that the Chinese don’t care.  Many of my students eagerly shared with me their views on climate change and it seems the younger generations are taking a more holistic approach towards conservation.  Several international organizations including The World Association of Soil and Water Conservation and the Institute for Global Environmental Strategies work through offices in Beijing to conduct research and provide recommendations to the Ministry of Environmental Protection. National parks and conservation areas proudly boast glassy rivers and natural hot springs.  But until the government makes a coordinated effort to educate poor rural communities like Chengde on conservation practices like recycling and proper waste disposal, safe water will remain a commodity that is easier to say than to find. 
__________

Sara Brock is a volunteer intern at The Groundwater Foundation. She earned a BS in Biology and English from Drake University in 2015. Sara has been working on writing stories about program participants and working on the Science Olympiad program. Reach Sara at sbrock@groundwater.org.

Friday, October 28, 2016

BLOG: First Groundwater Focused Plan to Address Nonpoint Pollution

by Sam Radford, Wellhead Protection Program Coordinator and Laura JohnsonIntegrated Report and TMDL Coordinator, Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality

The spotlight is on Nebraska as the EPA recently approved the Bazile Groundwater Management Area (BGMA) Plan. The BGMA Plan is the first groundwater focused plan in the nation to address nonpoint source pollution. The plan is the result of a collaborative effort to reduce groundwater nitrate contamination between the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality (NDEQ) and four of Nebraska’s Natural Resources Districts (NRDs): Lewis and Clark, Lower Elkhorn, Lower Niobrara, and the Upper Elkhorn. The approval of this plan provides NRDs, Communities, and other Public Water Systems (PWS) an innovative framework to build upon, and new funding sources to protect the BGMA Wellhead Protection (WHP) Areas, as well as WHP Areas across the state.

Figure 1
The BGMA covers 756 square miles in northeast Nebraska and is home to 10 communities and over 7,000 residents (see Figure 1). Groundwater in the BGMA is the only drinking water source for communities and rural residents. Extensive row crop and sandy soils have allowed nitrate from land applied manure and commercial fertilizer to leach into the groundwater. The NRDs have collected data on groundwater nitrate concentrations since 1980. During that time, average nitrate concentrations have increased with some areas exceeding 30 mg/L, three times the levels safe for drinking water.

The plan focuses on reducing groundwater nitrate levels below 10 mg/L by progressively adopting more protective Best Management Practices (BMPs) throughout the BGMA. Community Wellhead Protection Areas are listed as the highest project funding priority. The NRDs will utilize a combination of agricultural BMPs required by elevated Groundwater Management plan phases, and voluntary BMPs outlined in the BGMA plan that go above and beyond phase requirements. Through the development of the BGMA Plan, the NRDs have created a cohesive strategy to monitor nitrate reductions in groundwater as fertilizer practices and irrigation methods are improved in the area. This monitoring data will also further refine future versions of the BGMA plan to ensure its goals are achieved.

To truly understand the significance of this plan, one must understand the history of water laws in Nebraska as well as at the federal level. In the past, groundwater and surface water were thought to be two separate water sources and were therefore regulated by separate water laws. At the federal level, the Clean Water Act (CWA) of 1972 charged the US EPA to regulate point source pollution to surface water. While the CWA began to successfully reduce point source contamination, it failed to effectively address nonpoint source contamination. In 1987, the CWA was amended, and the Section 319 Nonpoint Source Management Program was established to improve federal leadership and support, and focus local efforts on voluntarily reducing nonpoint source contamination (EPA 2016). Even with the 1987 amendment, the CWA act did not directly speak to groundwater, leaving management of groundwater resources to the states. Nebraska has been managing and regulating groundwater resources through the NRDs since the mid ‘70s. However, the hydrologic connection between surface and groundwater wasn’t legally recognized until 1996.This acknowledgement has led Nebraska to collaborative efforts that address nonpoint source contamination from a different perspective than what is generally found at the federal level.

The BGMA plan is the first EPA approved plan in the nation to address nonpoint source groundwater quality problems using the Clean Water Act. This is a milestone for communities who have struggled to obtain funding for projects that seek to educate and inform residents and local producers; and implement BMPs targeted at reducing nonpoint source groundwater pollution in their Wellhead Protection Areas. Until now, CWA Section 319 funding was only used on projects that address impairments in surface water or in areas that were listed as priority areas in a NRD’s watershed management plan. While more and more WHP areas are being targeted in watershed management plans, the BGMA plan is the first to address it from the standpoint of groundwater and to make WHP areas a priority for project funding.

Nebraska is unique in that approximately 88% of the state’s residents, and nearly all rural residents, primary source of drinking water comes from groundwater (NDEQ 2015). The geology, hydrology, and depth to groundwater determine how susceptible groundwater aquifers are to contamination. For example, sandy soils, little or no protective surface layers (i.e. clay or glacial till), and/or high groundwater tables leave drinking water aquifers especially vulnerable to point and nonpoint source contamination. The rate of groundwater movement ranges from inches per year(s) to inches per decade(s) compared to surface water which moves inches per day(s) to week(s) to enter surface waterbodies.

Table 1
Nonpoint source groundwater nitrate contamination is one of the most prevalent nonpoint source contaminants in Nebraska. It puts a heavy financial burden on communities and their Public Water Systems, as the only way to remove nitrate from drinking water is through treatment. In the last 20 years, five PWS and landowners with private wells in the BGMA have spent over $9 million dollars on treatment (see Table 1). This amount includes the cost of facility operations and maintenance (O&M) and point of use (POU) treatment systems for domestic well owners. Ultimately, the cost of treatment and O&M falls on the 4,201 residents that reside in the five affected communities and land owners in the surrounding area. In the future, the cost of treatment will only increase if the source of contamination is not addressed (NDEQ 2016). Nitrate contamination is prevalent throughout Nebraska and many other communities are dealing with the same problems as those in the BGMA (see Figure 2). This is just one example of why the work that has been done and will continue to be done in the BGMA is so important. Hopefully, the plan will pave the way for many other NRDs and communities to better respond to and manage nonpoint source contamination, especially in WHP areas.
Figure 2

The approval of the BGMA plan by the EPA has provided an entirely new source of funding that wasn’t previously available for groundwater and drinking water protection efforts. Since the creation of Nebraska’s voluntary Wellhead Protection Program, communities and PWS across the state have had the ability to create WHP protection plans to protect their drinking water sources. These plans identify possible sources of contamination in the WHP area and lay out management strategies to address sources of contaminants. The ultimate goal is to implement on-the-ground activities such as BMPs and education and outreach programs. More often than not this goal falls short as no direct funding is available to communities. Many communities do not have the time, support, education, or money needed to develop and implement effective WHP plans. Until now, the only financial assistance NDEQ has been able to give communities who wish to protect their drinking water sources are Source Water Protection (SWP) Grants. The grant program distributes up to $100,000 a year, which generally isn’t enough to fund multiple larger more involved projects. The SWP Grant has been limited in its ability to support long-term efforts to reduce nonpoint source contamination. The NDEQ is hopeful that communities will be able to better protect their drinking water sources through CWA Section 319 funding.

The BGMA plan approval by the EPA has also led to new activities for the SWP Grant to fund. As stated previously, the BGMA plan is the first in the nation to focus on ground water instead of surface water. Because most Nebraska communities use groundwater as a source for their drinking water, those communities were not included in earlier watershed management plans nor were they eligible for funding on their own. In response to the EPA approval of the BGWMA plan, the NDEQ is working with communities and the EPA to develop Drinking Water Protection Management (DWPM) Plans. These plans will be similar to the BGMA plan in that they will primarily be groundwater focused plans that specifically target WHP areas. These plans will:
  • Meet EPA requirements for alternative 9-element watershed management plans
  • Increase WHP area delineations from 20 to 50 year delineations using three-dimensional groundwater models
  • Include strong implementable Information and Education programs
  • Use community based planning processes to develop the plan

Currently three Nebraska communities are in the process of developing DWPM plans. Two through the 2016 SWP Grant and one proposed project that will combine available 319 planning money and other grant sources. The ability to independently qualify for 319 project funding would provide a much needed funding stream to the many struggling communities in Nebraska. These new opportunities would not be possible without the innovative work that was done on the BGMA plan. The NDEQ looks forward to working with Nebraska communities to protect and improve their drinking water.

A special thanks to the BGMA stakeholders and the many individuals from various local, state, and federal organizations for their contributions to the development of this plan.

You can view the plan at http://deq.ne.gov/publica.nsf/pages/16-013 and learn more about Drinking Water Protection Management Plans by visiting http://deq.ne.gov/NDEQProg.nsf/OnWeb/SWPGMain. Select the Invitations for 2016 Source Water Protection link and open the fact sheet PDF.

Sources:
EPA, 2016. Polluted Runoff: Nonpoint Source Pollution Webpage, https://www.epa.gov/nps/319-grant-program-states-and-territories

NDEQ, 2015. 2015 Nebraska Groundwater Quality Monitoring Report, 5 p. http://deq.ne.gov/publica.nsf/PubsForm.xsp?documentId=8DE603FF6ACDF2C086257F1100578674&action=openDocument.

NDEQ. 2016. Bazile Groundwater Management Plan, 42 p, http://deq.ne.gov/publica.nsf/pages/16-013.