General Information & History

General Information & History

Mission Statement

“The Upper Big Blue Natural Resources District shall be a leader in conserving, protecting, developing, and managing the natural resources of this District for the health and welfare of the people of the District.”

About Nebraska's NRDs

About Nebraska's NRDs
About Nebraska's NRDs
  • Protect lives through flood protection
  • Leaders in groundwater management
  • Use taxpayer dollars efficiently

Formed in 1972, Nebraska’s Natural Resources Districts are local government entities with broad responsibilities to protect our natural resources.

NRDs help Nebraskans respond to natural resource challenges with local control and local solutions.  Major Nebraska river basins form the boundaries of the 23 NRDs, each of which is governed by locally elected boards of directors.  The Upper Big Blue NRD is governed by a 17-member board of directors.   These directors are elected by registered voters within the District.  The board sets policy for the District and works closely with the staff through a committee system to carry out the District’s goals.  

Statewide, NRDs are largely funded by property taxes and make efficient use of those tax dollars; typically a Natural Resources District uses only 1% to 2% of all property taxes collected in a county.  

For example, in the Upper Big Blue NRD on a $100,000 home this would equate to about $30 of property tax per year; A small investment for peace of mind knowing that your NRD is “Water Conscious”.     

To protect and conserve Nebraska’s groundwater and other natural resources is an endearing vocation, and to that end, we are pleased to serve the citizens of Nebraska who benefit from these resources.

About Upper Big Blue NRD

About Upper Big Blue NRD
About Upper Big Blue NRD

More than 56,000 citizens rely on the Upper Big Blue Natural Resources District (NRD) to provide direction and assistance in the wise use, conservation and development of our soil, water and related natural resources.  The NRD is dedicated to the conservation and careful development of natural resources to serve everyone’s needs. 

The NRD system was created in 1972, following Nebraska legislation which consolidated more than 150 statewide special-purpose districts into 23 NRDs.  The NRDs correspond to major river basins in Nebraska.  Therefore, NRDs carry the names of these rivers, hence the Upper Big Blue NRD is named after the uppermost portion of the Big Blue River.

NRDs are organized as governmental subdivisions of the state.  Local control is provided by a board of directors.  At the Upper Big Blue NRD, a 17-member board establishes policy.  These directors are placed in office through the general election process and represent the community’s interests in conservation.  Across the state, NRDs offer a major source of assistance to landowners in conservation and natural resources management.  Not only do the board members make decisions about conservation programs at the District level, 

they also bring a wealth of local judgment and experience when adapting state and national programs to local situations.  The NRD staff is responsible for the day-to-day operations.  The Board sets policy only.  The NRD staff at York and the field clerks at the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) offices in each county are responsible for implementing NRD policy and regulations.

A major source of funding for projects, programs and administration comes from a levy on all taxable property within the District. Other sources include federal and state funding, as well as program fees.  

Certain projects may also be funded with a portion of other local, state, private and/or federal revenues.  The NRD is empowered to coordinate land and water management programs with local, state and federal conservation organizations and other governmental units.

History

History
History

What was happening in Nebraska that set the stage for the creation of NRDs?... In other words, how does the NRD system trace its roots?

The following is a timeline of events that took place in Nebraska and nationwide that culminated in the creation of Nebraska’s Natural Resources Districts:

Nebraska from 1870’s to 1910’s

  • 1870’s:  Land agents knew that stores of groundwater lay below the ground in Central Nebraska.
  • To attract settlers, land agents marketed the sale of railroad land by offering “hook-ups” to the underground aquifer.  As a result, windmills dotted the landscape to provide water for cooking, drinking, washing, and watering livestock.

1920’s-1930’s

  • With the market crash in 1929 and the subsequent Dust Bowl years of the 30’s the federal government was forced to assist farmers by passing the Soil Conservation Act in 1937.
  • The U.S. Soil Conservation Service was also established that same year.

1940’s-1950’s

  • Soil & Water Conservation Districts were formed across the state of Nebraska, county by county, during the 1940’s and 50’s.

1960’s-1970’s

  • The 1960’s and 70’s, saw a sizeable increase in wells drilled and groundwater being pumped at a remarkable rate.
  • Because of its value to farmers and urban centers, groundwater became Nebraska’s most precious natural resource.

Changes were needed to the system:

The NRD concept was a purposeful approach to solve flood control, soil erosion, irrigation run-off, and groundwater depletion. Therefore, a new system was needed to address these issues and the idea of creating Natural Resources Districts was proposed.

Birth of the NRD

Birth of the NRD
Birth of the NRD

In April 1969, four senators introduced L.B. 1357 in order to consolidate 154 special-purpose districts into a series of multipurpose districts based on watershed boundaries.  The Founding Father of L.B. 1357 was Senator Maurice Kremer of Aurora, Nebraska.

It was an uphill battle however… Not surprisingly, the NRD concept proved controversial.  The idea of dividing governmental units along natural boundaries such as watershed lines was embraced by some and scorned by others.  Some officials of existing districts were concerned of losing local control and were apprehensive of the taxing and regulatory authority given to the proposed NRDs. Still, others welcomed the chance to carry out large-scale projects that were not bound by county lines or other artificial political boundaries.  After two years of intense debate and a last minute injunction trying to block the formation of NRDs, L.B. 1357 finally passed on September 18, 1969 and directed the special-purpose districts to merge into 24 Natural Resources Districts (NRDs) by July 1, 1972.

Our Name

Our Name
Our Name

The original 24 NRDs’ boundaries are organized across Nebraska following topographical boundaries of major river basins or “watersheds.”  As a result, the NRDs carry the names of these rivers; hence the Upper Big Blue NRD is named after the uppermost portion of the “Big Blue River.”  Later on, the Middle Missouri NRD and the Papio NRD were merged into one, becoming the Papio-Missouri NRD (in 1989), now resulting in 23 NRDs across the state.

More than 56,000 citizens rely on the Upper Big Blue Natural Resources District (NRD) to provide direction and assistance in the wise use, conservation and development of our soil, water and related natural resources.  The Upper Big Blue NRD, covers 2,865 square miles, or approximately 1,800,000 acres.  Encompassing all or part of nine counties, the Upper Big Blue NRD territory formerly included the Dorchester Watershed Conservancy District and portions of Adams, Butler, Clay, Fillmore, Hamilton, Polk, Saline, Seward, and all of York county soil and water conservation districts.  The total area of the Upper Big Blue NRD is larger than the State of Delaware.  

Organization

Organization
Organization

All 23 NRDs are organized as governmental sub-divisions of the state.  Local control is provided by a board of directors, elected by voters within the District.  Across the state, NRDs offer a major source of assistance—and regulations where necessary—to landowners in conservation and natural resources management.

Responsibilities of the Upper Big Blue NRD Board of Directors and Staff Locally Elected Boards equals Local Solutions in addressing Local Issues…

These directors are placed in office through the general election process and represent the community’s interests in conservation.  Locally elected NRD Board of Directors are given a broad range of authority to manage within the context of state laws.  This authority includes the power to tax, regulate & enforce rules/regulations, reform, monitor, educate, research, facilitate, assist and provide financial incentives.  Such a breadth and depth of functions provides a “Flexible Toolbox” from which to manage. This Flexible Toolbox translates into a respectful and flexible relationship between the state and the NRD system.

Across the state, NRDs offer a major source of assistance to landowners in conservation and natural resources management.  Not only do the board members make decisions about conservation programs at the District level, they also bring a wealth of local judgment and experience when adapting state and national programs to local situations.

  • A 17-member Board of Directors elected for four-year terms from eight sub-districts governs the Upper Big Blue Natural Resources District, including an “At-Large” director is also elected from anywhere in the District.  
  • These directors are placed in office through the general election process and represent communities/counties interests in conservation.
  • The NRD Board sets policy for the District.  The General Manager works for the Board, who in turn directs the NRD staff.  The NRD staff is responsible for the day-to-day operations and carries out the directives.
  • Not only do directors make decisions about conservation programs at the District level, they also bring a wealth of local judgment and experience when adapting state and national programs to local situations.
  • The NRD Board meets monthly in both Committee and Board Meetings. There are three Upper Big Blue NRD Committees:  Projects and Programs, Water, and Executive.  NRD Board of Directors assume various posts on each Committee.  
  • The annual schedule for meetings is as follows (The Public is encouraged to attend these meetings):
  • April – October:  Committee  meetings second Tuesday and Thursday each month at 7:30 p.m.  Board meetings are the third Thursday each month at 7:30 p.m.  
  • November – March:  Committee meetings second Tuesday each month at 9:00 a.m.  Board meetings are the third Thursday each month at 1:30 p.m.  
  • The NRD staff at York, and the NRD field clerks—located at the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) offices in each county—are responsible for implementing NRD policy and regulations set forth by the board.
  • The Upper Big Blue NRD staff consists of five departments:  Water, Projects, Administrative, Forestry, and Public Relations.  Department managers are responsible for the day-to-day functions of the District under the direction of the General Manager.  Department managers are also responsible for budget development and supervision of their department and employees.

Responsibilities

Responsibilities
Responsibilities

The Upper Big Blue Natural Resources District is a sub-division of Nebraska government charged with the management, development, and protection of soil and water resources within District boundaries.  District responsibilities are authorized by state statutes and are listed below in order of District priorities:

  1. Erosion prevention and control (structural mitigation: dams, levees, channels, and storm sewers).
  2. Prevention of damages from floodwaters and sediment (non-structural, such as greenbelts and zoning).
  3. Flood prevention and control.
  4. Soil conservation.
  5. Water supply for any beneficial users.
  6. Development, management, utilization and conservation of groundwater and surface water.
  7. Pollution control.
  8. Solid waste disposal (landfills or incineration) and sanitary drainage.
  9. Drainage improvement and channel rectification.
  10. Development and management of fish and wildlife habitat.
  11. Development and management of recreational and park facilities.
  12. Forestry and range management.

Within this general framework, the Upper Big Blue NRD carries out a variety of projects and programs in forestry, groundwater management, land treatment, flood control, water storage, and information and education.

To protect and conserve Nebraska's groundwater and other natural resources is an endearing vocation, and to that end, the Upper Big blue NRD Board of Directors and Staff are pleased to serve the citizens of Nebraska who benefit from these resources... "Conservation is the 'Nature' of Our Business".

Funding

Funding
Funding

A major source of funding for Upper Big Blue NRD projects, programs and administration comes from a levy on all taxable property within the District.  The NRD is authorized to use a levy of 4.5 cents per $100 valuation of property tax;  however, the Upper Big Blue NRD uses slightly below $.03 cents, or roughly two-thirds of what it is allowed to utilize.  Other sources include state and federal money acquired in the form of grants from various governmental agencies.  Grant money also comes from such organizations as The Nebraska Environmental Trust.


The Upper Big Blue NRD diligently works at being good stewards of the money it is entrusted— by using less than the allowable levy, while at the same time maximizing program funding only at the most critical levels.  

The 49 Other States

The 49 Other States
The 49 Other States

According to Dr. David W. Cash’s article “Innovative Natural Resource Management—Nebraska’s Model for Linking Science and Decision Making” in the December 2003 Environment magazine, Cash investigates the effectiveness and credibility of Nebraska’s NRDs by asking “Does the NRD system serve as a model for linking science and management for sustainable development in a complex and rapidly changing human-environment system?  In many respects the answer to this appears to be a qualified yes,” according to Cash.  “The NRD structure and attendant functions have allowed Nebraskans to cope with a variety of stressors, both social and environmental.  The system they have constructed is adaptable and flexible and able to respond to new problems, issues, and demands; it is also able to incorporate (in fact, encourage) new science and technological development.  Moreover, it produces management that is at once internally consistent (across issues—groundwater regulations do not generally constrain surface water regulations) and externally consistent (state-level and local-level planning is integrated).”

 

Dr. Cash continues, “Actions in other parts of the Great Plains may be evidence of NRDs’ perceived effectiveness:  Texas and Kansas are demonstrating interest in moving toward systems that share some of the functions, if not structures, of Nebraska.  Over the last 30 years, counties (or parts of counties) in Texas have increasingly opted to join Underground Water Conservation Districts, which more and more frequently address both quantity and quality issues.  They have done so not only to gain access to state conservation funds but to be better connected to state agencies and scientific organizations.  This is also consistent with new state legislation that has provided an influx of resources to help regions (tens of counties) do more integrated water planning.  These resources include funds specifically designed to encourage collaborations between districts, the state geological survey, and USGS in an effort to bridge historically insurmountable boundaries.

 

Likewise, Kansas is attempting to bridge the boundaries created by single-issue districts.  Lawmakers and mangers there are trying to figure out institutional solutions to the mismatches between Groundwater Management Districts and Basin Advisory Councils in a way that would support better integration of ground and surface water management, for instance.”


Interestingly, Cash goes on to say, “Outside the United States, it is possible that the lessons learned from NRDs can be adapted in other highly developed countries.  In fact, several countries—including Australia and Sweden—are moving in the direction of multipurpose networked systems.”