York has Project GROW in its future: Well field enhancement plan earns $50,000 grant

York has Project GROW in its future: Well field enhancement plan earns $50,000 grant

Friday, December 22, 2017
York has Project GROW in its future:  Well field enhancement plan earns $50,000 grant
By Steve Moseley Regional Editor, York News-Times, Nov 29, 2017

YORK – The Upper Big Blue NRD’s first-ever ‘Lunch and Learn’ introduced a very forward- thinking partnership that has been forged between the City of York and the Upper Big Blue.

The goal is to enhance the health of plants and soils of the approximately 140 acres that lie atop the municipal well field east of the Family Aquatic Center and York Ball Park Complex to keep the water below fresh and safe.

Some work has already begun under the banner of Project GROW (Growing Rotational crops On Wellfields).
How the pieces came together was as unlikely as it was fortuitous.

“This is a project we were on our way to doing” already, explained NRD public information manager Scott Snell to open the session. “Then, lo and behold, along comes a grant program.”

He went to say the federal government has designated this as a “food scarce area,” meaning the number of places to obtain food – primarily grocery stores – falls short of what the government’s formula considers appropriate for the human population.

That designation in turn opened the door to a grant application from the National Association of Conservation Districts.
Snell applied for a grant which was awarded in the amount of $50,000. Nineteen districts in 14 states were approved for grants, however this is the only one to gain favor in Nebraska.

The many aspects of the project run from careful management of cover crops to a community garden of 15x20 foot plots that will be made available to the individuals, business, civic clubs, youth groups, etc. More information about how to participate in the shared garden will be released once rules and information packets are completed.

Twelve of the plots are already tilled and ready to go. There is space to accommodate “hundreds more” said Mari Krausnick, water department manager of the NRD, should public interest reach that level.

The plots will likely require only a nominal fee to cover water the city will provide at the site, plus a per-plot, fully-refundable deposit to encourage folks to properly care for their gardens.

Information on gardening – what best to plant, when to plant and growing tips – is included in the community garden initiative, too, explained Zoe Vallas of AmericaCorps which is also a partner in the project.

AmeriCorps is a civil society program of the federal government, private foundations, corporations and other donors engaging adults in public service work. It accomplishes domestically what the Peace Corps does internationally.  Vallas is attached to the NRD office for a year and is funded entirely by AmeriCorps.

Details of the multi-faceted project are still being locked down; however long runs of blueberry, raspberry and blackberry bushes separated by grass walkways (already seeded and emerging) are on the front burner. It’s the same for cover crop rotations and perhaps even a for-profit crop of field beans.

NRD water conservationist Dan Leininger presided over a PowerPoint presentation and answered questions about everything from how cover crops will be used to a breakdown of potential plants and the advantages of each. Triticale, a cross between wheat and rye, is in place now.  Leininger suggested perhaps barley as another cover crop with profit potential. He said area microbreweries hold locally-grown barley in high regard.

“We plan on being profitable,” said Leininger of the project.

In answer to a question, Krausnick stressed that any and all profits will go directly to the city as owner of the ground.

Snell said he has failed to find any similar approaches to optimizing a well field in the entire country.  There are many angles to Project GROW, he said, but “In the end we’re really focused on water and quality.”