Friday, September 28, 2018

BLOG: Nebraska Wellhead Protection Network

by Sara Brock, The Groundwater Foundation

The Nebraska Wellhead Protection Network is a collaboration of the Groundwater Foundation, state agencies, local municipalities, and private organizations who are involved in protecting and conserving groundwater and drinking water sources in Nebraska. A recent meeting was held on September 26, 2018 at the Water Treatment Plant in Auburn, Nebraska. Ken Swanson, manager of Auburn’s Water and Wastewater Treatment, and Dave Hunter, general manager of Auburn Board of Public Works, hosted the 24 of us inside Auburn’s Water Treatment Plant amidst all of the pumps, filters, and equipment.

Auburn’s public water system is supplied by groundwater from the alluvial aquifer underneath the Nemaha River valley and, because of this, is classified as “Groundwater Under the Direct Influence of Surface Water” or GWUDI. Communities that utilize GWUDI as a source have to have additional methods and treatments to ensure that the water that enters the public system meets all drinking water standards. The water treatment plant one part of Auburn’s complex and proactive approach to providing clean water in their area.  Fully automated, the plant self-cleans its filters, provides treated and safe water to all of its residents, and was designed to allow for additional filtering tanks and treatment processes should water quality and quantity issues arise in the future. While the filters were turned off during the presentation portion of the meeting, Ken and several of Auburn’s water operators were able to show us how the plant performs a filter flush and backwash during the tour.

Beyond the plant, Auburn has been working closely with the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality to update their Wellhead Protection (WHP) Plan, including a re-drawing of the boundaries to include the Surface Water Contribution Area, encompassing a whopping 51,000 acres of land in and around Auburn. Dave’s presentation focused very passionately on the idea that groundwater and surface water protections absolutely must be integrated because “they all end up in the same bucket” and the 2017 version of the plan not only reflects this, but has also opened up Auburn’s WHP and Drinking Water Protection Management Plan (DWPMP) to new sources of funding. Auburn is the first municipality in the U.S. to utilize federal 319 funding for an integrated groundwater and surface water management plan.

The complex history and future plans of Auburn’s water system was a useful subject for many of the attendees of this meeting, including representatives from Syracuse, York, and Wilber.  These communities are in the process of developing and implementing wellhead protection and drinking water protection management plans. Talking with Ken and Dave as well as Jonathan Mohr, a senior environmental planner with JEO Consulting Group who assisted in the development of the plans, the meeting provided potential next steps and opportunities to replicate and improve upon Auburn’s WHP model.

For more information about the Nebraska Wellhead Protection Network, visit

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

It's Water-Wise Wednesdays with Frannie the Fish! {#TBT - Edible Aquifers}

Frannie likes to learn about groundwater by using hands on activities, so this week she's taking you back to an old favorite!  Here's how you can learn all about aquifers while creating your own yummy treats!

Edible aquifers are a fun and easy way to understand the geology of an aquifer. Your edible aquifer will help you learn about confining layers, contamination, groundwater recharge and water tables!

Here is what you will need to make your edible aquifer:

• Clear plastic cups
• Ice cream scoop
• Spoons
• Drinking straws
• Blue/red food coloring
• Vanilla ice cream or fruity sorbet
• Clear soda pop
• Small gummy bears, chocolate chips, crushed cookies, breakfast cereal, or crushed ice
• Variety of colored cake decoration sprinkles and sugars
What you will need to do:

1. Begin to make your edible aquifer by filling the clear plastic cup 1/3 full with gummy bears,
chocolate chips, or crushed ice (This represents sand and gravel).
2. Add enough soda (this represents the water) to just cover the candy/ice.
3. Add a layer of ice cream to make a “confining layer” over the water-filled aquifer.
4. Then add more “sand/gravel” on top of the confining layer.
5. Colored sugars and sprinkles will represent soils and should be sprinkled over the top to create the
porous top layer.
6. Now add the food coloring to the soda. The food coloring represents contamination. Pour the colored soda over the top of the aquifer.
7. Watch what happens when it is poured on the top of the aquifer. This is what happens when contaminants are spilled on the earth’s surface.
8. Using a drinking straw, drill a well into the center of your aquifer by poking the straw through the aquifer.
9. Slowly begin to pump the well by sucking on the straw. Watch the water go down in the water table.
10. Notice how the contaminants can get sucked into the well area and end up in the groundwater by
leaking through the confining layer.
11. Now recharge your aquifer by adding more soda which represents a rain shower.
12. Review what you have learned as you enjoy eating your edible aquifer.

Here is a video that shows you step by step how to make your edible aquifer!

If you would like more hands on activities that can help you learn about groundwater, visit the Students and Educator's page on The Groundwater Foundation website!

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Protect Groundwater by Maintaining Your Septic System

by Jennifer Wemhoff, the Groundwater Foundation

With proper construction and maintenance, septic systems can be an effective way of treating wastewater for homeowners not connected to a centralized wastewater treatment system. But it's up to the homeowner to take care of the system and ensure it's not negatively impacting groundwater.

Regular Inspections. Your septic system should be inspected annually to ensure that it's working properly and if the tank needs to be pumped. Having your system inspected and pumped regularly can help you avoid the high cost of septic system failure. Find a professional septic system contractor. An inspection will locate the system, uncover the manhole and inspection ports, check connections, measure the scum and sludge layers, and check the tank and drainfield.

Keep Records. It's important to keep records of all permits, inspections, pumpings, repairs, and other maintenance. It's also a good idea to keep a sketch of where your system is located. Having this information is handy for service providers.

Protect the Drainfield. The septic system's drainfield is delicate, and needs to be protected. Don't plant anything but grass over the drainfield. Roots from shrubs and trees can cause damage. Also, don't drive, park, or operate heavy machinery over any part of the system, and don't build anything on top of the drainfield. Grass is the best cover for a drainfield.

Be Careful What You Flush. What you put into your septic system greatly affects its ability to do its job. Your septic system contains living organisms that digest and treat waste. Septic systems are not designed to be a garbage can. In the kitchen, don't put food scraps, coffee grinds, grease, cooking oils, or other food items down the drain. In the bathroom, never flush plastics, paper towels, facial tissues, tampons, sanitary napkins, cigarette butts, dental floss, disposable diapers, condoms, medications, or kitty litter in the toilet. The only things that should be flushed down the toilet are wastewater and toilet paper.

Conserve Water. Water conservation is a very important part of septic system maintenance. Continual saturation of the drainfield's soil can affect its ability to remove contaminants from wastewater. Look for and fix leaky fixtures and toilets, only wash full loads in the dish and clothes washers, and take short showers.

Find out more about how you can protect groundwater through septic system maintenance here, here, and here.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

BLOG: Proactive Source Water Management for a Unique Water System

by Jonathan Mohr, JEO Consulting Group, Inc. and David Hunter, Auburn Board of Public Works

The City of Auburn, population 3,000, is located in southeast Nebraska, near the Little Nemaha River, approximately seven miles upstream of its confluence with the Missouri River. The City receives its drinking water from a wellfield located east of the community within an alluvial aquifer along the Little Nemaha River. The wellfield consists of 11 vertical wells averaging 45 to 50 feet below the ground's surface, pumping up to 150 million gallons per year. The source water area also includes multiple small perennial tributaries, which provide recharge to the aquifer, and are therefore hydrologically connected to the alluvial aquifer.

This connection has resulted in several unique water management challenges for the Auburn Board of Public Works (BPW), which is responsible for managing the community’s water system. This hydrologic connection resulted in a 2008 determination by the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services that the water system is a “groundwater system under the influence of surface water.” Only 12 water systems in Nebraska (out of 602) carry this designation, which requires a higher level of water treatment. As a result, the BPW started construction of a new water treatment plan in 2009 which went online in 2011.

In order to better manage this unique resource, the BPW developed the Auburn Drinking Water Protection Management Plan (DWPMP) to guide decision-makers towards their goal of providing a long-term, safe, and reliable source of drinking water. The plan was approved by the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality (NDEQ) and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region VII in July 2018, making Auburn the first municipality in the United States with an approved DWPMP.

The idea behind the DWPMP began in 2014 by the NDEQ Source Water Protection Program. NDEQ staff worked with U.S. EPA Region VII to recognize the hydrologic connection between surface water and groundwater. Historically, EPA has only focused funds towards protecting surface water quality; however, by recognizing this hydrologic connection and the risks to groundwater from nonpoint source pollution, NDEQ has opened the door to funding additional opportunities. NDEQ can now allow communities with an approved DWPMP to use funding from the Nonpoint Source Management Program 319 Funds to implement projects and programs to safeguard a groundwater-based drinking water source. Auburn’s DWPMP focuses on improving the water quality within the perennial streams that recharge the alluvial aquifer where Auburn’s wells are located.

A hydrologically connected aquifer requires a unique methodology to identify and delineate the wellhead protection area (WHPA). The former WHPA was updated to include a "conjunctive delineation" which identifies an area from which surface water may contribute to the groundwater reaching a well. Auburn’s conjunctive WHPA now includes the watersheds of the locally contributing tributaries, and a small portion of the Little Nemaha River watershed upgradient of the wellfield. This allows for holistic management and protection of both surface and groundwater resources. The new WHPA is 51,400 acres, one of the largest in Nebraska, and the first to be officially designated a conjunctive delineation by NDEQ.

Working with stakeholders and the public was critical to developing the DWPMP.  These included the Nemaha Natural Resources District (NRD), NDEQ, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, and private property owners. Stakeholders, including agricultural producers, provided input on preferred best management practices (BMPs), including cover crops, grassed waterways, no-till farming, soil sampling, and use of bioswales and constructed wetlands within urban areas.

Another key plan recommendation, currently under design by JEO Consulting Group, Inc., is exploring the use of artificial groundwater recharge (AGR) to increase the storage capacity of the aquifer. This could increase the quantity of water available to Auburn’s wells, build resistance to drought, and create a more sustainable and resilient water system. Structures used to achieve AGR will also improve streambank stabilization, improve water quality, and improve aquatic habitat. AGR structures include in-stream grade control, low-head weirs, or similar structures which raise the surface level of the tributaries, thereby increasing storage in the aquifer. An existing 19-acre borrow pit immediately north Auburn is another target for AGR, by pumping water from a local tributary into the pit and allowing it to seep into the aquifer.

The DWPMP is a shining example of collaboration between Auburn BPW, Nemaha NRD, NDEQ, agricultural producers, and citizens. The Auburn community and agricultural producers will benefit from the plan and its future actions with safe drinking water, improved soil health, reduced erosion, and improved water quality for years to come.

Jonathan Mohr is a Senior Environmental Planner at JEO Consulting Group, Inc. in Lincoln, Nebraska. Reach him at David Hunter is the General Manager for the Auburn, Nebraska Board of Public Works. Reach him at

Friday, September 7, 2018

BLOG: Are You Curious?

by Jennifer Wemhoff, The Groundwater Foundation's something we're all born with. If you've ever spent time with a mobile baby or toddler, you know that they're innately curious about the world around them. We were all curious, asked lots of questions, and desired to learn more...until we weren't. Unfortunately, society in general tends to value answers and certainty much more than it values questions and curiosity.

I participated in a conversation today about curiosity organized by History Nebraska. A wide variety of Lincoln-area organizations participated, from cultural and arts organizations, to natural resources and neighborhood-focused organizations, and museums focusing on a number of subjects. History Nebraska has been working with consultants Rainey Tisdale and Susie Wilkening on a project examining curiosity with in individuals and organizations, and how it can be fostered within a community as a whole. They define curiosity as the underpinning of lifelong learning and engagement.

According to the consultants' research, only about 5% of the population is curious - they want to learn just because. That doesn't mean the rest of the population doesn't learn or want to learn, it's just that their motivations are different - they're driven by extrinsic factors, such as school or their jobs. Intrinsically curious people thrive on wanting to know what they don't know.

Interestingly, the desire to know something is found in the same part of the brain as the desire for food. The pleasure center in the brain is activated when curious people find the answer to something they didn't know before, much like it would if one was eating their favorite food.

An interesting video was shared with the group, outlining a cool project in the U.K. designed to foster curiosity in students directed at literacy.

Watch the video yourself and think about how the students physically exhibited their curiosity. Their curiosity creates and experience that will stick with these kids in real ways.

The group as a whole had a great discussion about what curiosity means in each of our respective organizations, and how we can help create curious people through the work we do. In terms of groundwater education, we can tend to people's curiosity about where their water comes from - they're naturally curious about water that comes out of the ground that they can't see.

Are you a curious person? What motivates your curiosity? How does it drive your desire to learn about groundwater?

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

It's Water-Wise Wednesdays with Frannie the Fish! {Fannie's Adventure Downstream: Part 3}

This is the third of a three part series exploring pollution in the stream near Frannie's home. Join her on her adventure downstream to see what happens or go back to read the first part or second part of her journey.

Frannie started coughing from the gross taste the stream had left in her mouth. Soon after, she noticed some items floating down the stream. The industrial waste made the water murky and a hard piece of metal almost hit her!

Add the ninth item to the bowl – industrial waste: Pour in some soap and wood or metal items.

“Oh no! Poor Frannie!”

At this point, Frannie was getting a little tired but decided to continue to swim downstream.

She yawned and tasted something, “Yuck what is that?” Frannie looked out of the stream and noticed that the area had been recently sprayed for bugs. Some of the bug spray, called pesticides, had gotten into the stream. Frannie did not like the way these chemicals tasted and they made her eyes itch!

Add the tenth item to the bowl – pesticides: Pour the baking soda mixed with coffee into the bowl.

“Oh no! Poor Frannie!”

Frannie was exhausted from her wild day. She was ready to go back home to her cool, clear pond!

Fish like Frannie and her other aquatic friends like clean water to live and play in. They like vegetation along the bank to shade the water and keep it cool. The cooler the water, the more oxygen for aquatic life to breathe. Plus, insects and leaves from vegetation fall into the water providing food for Frannie and her friends.

Think about your home or community. Did any of the materials that contaminated Frannie's stream sound familiar?  Have you seen them used in your neighborhood, home, or school?  Many of these contaminants are things we come into contact with every day.

What can you do (with the help of friends and family) to help keep Frannie’s home and all water clean?  Let the Groundwater Foundation know and share how you keep your local streams fresh for all of the fish!