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

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