Water Management & Groundwater Programs

Water Management & Groundwater Programs

Observation Well Program

This program is designed to gather district-wide information on changes in groundwater levels.  Measurements, for which the owner has given his or her permission, are taken by district staff from privately owned irrigation wells. Measurements are taken in the spring when the groundwater level has rebounded from the previous irrigation season. 
All of the pertinent data from the district’s measurement program are sent to the Conservation and Survey Division of the University of Nebraska.  The data is part of the basis for the yearly analysis of groundwater levels used by this and many other agencies involved in groundwater research and management.  The data and results of the analysis are published annually by the University of Nebraska and USGS.

Crop Water Use Information

This program encourages efficient irrigation water use by providing the irrigator with daily water use data for crops throughout the growing season. The daily crop water use is determined by collecting data from an automated weather station (located at Recharge Lake near York), sponsored by the district and the University of Nebraska High Plains Climate Center. The collected information includes minimum-maximum daily temperature and corresponding relative humidity, solar radiation and wind run.
This data is entered into a computer program developed by the University of Nebraska which calculates the amount of water used by the crop under those existing weather conditions. In order to use this information for irrigation scheduling, the irrigator should be familiar with certain field conditions.
These conditions include:

  • The water holding capacity of the soil (this information is available by contacting the NRD, NRCS, or UNL Cooperative Extension)
  • The applied water for each irrigation
  • Rainfall—This should be measured at or near the field

Crop water-use information is available online and can be heard daily on KAWL radio in York, Nebraska. This information is also published in the York News-Times each day. Several county extension agents are also making this information available through their hotlines or weekly newspaper columns. For information, contact the Upper Big Blue NRD or your county extension office.

Nebraska Agricultural Water Management Network

The Upper Big Blue NRD offers a program for cost-share in the form of an up-front price break of fifty percent of the cost of ET gauges, Watermark© sensors and meters.
The purpose of the project is to track soil moisture use by crops across the district through measuring evapo-transpiration (ET) with the atmometers and keeping track of soil moisture at each atmometer site with four Watermark® sensors placed at 1-, 2-, and 3-foot depths. (The actual equipment may vary depending on specific needs at each site).
During the summer of 2006, “Project WATER-TIP” spawned the beginnings of the Nebraska Agricultural Water Management Network to extend this program statewide along with UNL Extension. For details, contact Dan Leininger, or call (402) 362-6601.

Irrigation Scheduling Equipment Discount

Irrigation scheduling is a critical part of good irrigation water management. Over-irrigation increases production cost, can reduce crop yields, and leaches nitrates out of the crop root zone which pollutes the groundwater. Simple management tools are available, which can help the irrigator decide when it is appropriate to irrigate and when he or she can wait.
The district sells several of these tools at a fifty-percent (50%) discount to irrigators in the district. The equipment is also for sale to others at regular prices.The irrigation scheduling equipment available includes:

  • Irrometer - Moisture Sensors, Hand Held Meters and Data loggers
  • Etgage Company – Atmometers
  • Clement, Standard, and BackSaver Soil Probes

Irrigators choosing to purchase moisture sensors and atmometers are encouraged to participate in the Nebraska Agricultural Water Management Network. Participation is voluntary.

Wellhead Protection Area Assistance

This program supports and enhances the establishment and management of Wellhead Protection Areas (WHPAs) in the Upper Big Blue Natural Resources District and neighboring communities in Adams, Butler, Clay, Fillmore, Hall, Hamilton, Polk, Saline, Seward, and York Counties.

Objectives for Wellhead Protection Area Assistance

  1. Facilitate WHPA delineation, contaminant source inventories and development of WHPA management plans for public water suppliers within the district and neighboring communities. 
  2. Provide advanced, focused assistance to a limited number of communities within the district and neighboring communities, concentrating on communities that have established WHPAs and a commitment to ongoing management within the WHPAs.
  3. Provide technical assistance to communities by gathering, interpreting and delivering technical information required for WHPA activities.
  4. Coordinate and enhance assistance for protecting community drinking water supplies under various programs such as Nebraska’s Non-point Source Management Program, Source Water Assessment and Protection, the Mandates Management Initiative and related efforts.
  5. Implementation of possible Phase II or Phase III Water Quality Management Areas within the district where source of contamination is due to non-point sources.
  6. Assist in protection of water quality in and around WHPAs through the use of current district programs such as water well decommissioning, vadose zone and soil sampling, water sampling and analysis, GIS and GPS mapping capabilities, chemigation, free nitrate testing, etc.

Anticipated Results for Wellhead Protection Area Assistance

  1. Gather sufficient technical information to delineate WHPAs for all the communities and public water suppliers within the district and neighboring communities.
  2. Contaminant source inventories for approximately 50% of public water suppliers with delineated WHPAs within the region.
  3. Long-term WHPA management plans for approximately six suppliers within the district and neighboring communities.
  4. Increased technical assistance/information dissemination to communities at all stages of WHPA development and implementation.
  5. Improved coordination of ongoing efforts involving protection of drinking water supplies.

Domestic Well Testing Program

This educational program partners with homeowners to test rural domestic wells for drinking water nitrate. Samples are taken each fall from previously selected rural domestic wells throughout the district and tested at the district’s laboratory. Approximately 250 domestic wells are tested annually. Although domestic well samples may not provide an accurate representation of the condition of the aquifer, they are an indication of the quality of the drinking water being used by the rural public.

Walk-in Water Testing & At-home Water Testing Programs

The district offers free analysis for nitrates and bacteria in groundwater. Domestic wells should be tested at least once a year for both nitrates and bacteria.  Ten parts per million is the safe drinking water standard set for nitrates in public water supplies. Infants are at highest risk from high nitrate poisoning.  A condition called methemolobinemia, also known as “blue baby syndrome,” limits the blood’s ability to carry oxygen.  This can result in brain damage and even death if not treated promptly.  High nitrates have been shown to cause health and reproduction problems in livestock.  Certain health studies indicate that high nitrates may also be associated with some forms of cancer. 

While most wells are free of harmful bacteria it can be introduced into a well during construction or repairs or may enter a well through a crack in the casing or surface seal.  It is well documented that certain bacteria pose a serious health risk to humans and livestock.
Nitrates - To have a water sample tested for nitrates, bring a small jar (four ounces) of water to the NRD during business hours.  The jar should be washed and rinsed before the sample is collected.  Let the water run for ten minutes before filling the jar.
Bacteria - A sterile bottle with a special solution must be used for a proper bacteria test.  The bottle and proper sampling instructions are available at the NRD office.
All samples must be kept in a cool place (DO NOT FREEZE) and returned the NRD office within 24 hours of collection for nitrates and within 4 hours of collection for bacteria.

Abandoned Well Programs

Reporting Abandoned Wells
Any well that is abandoned within the management area must be reported to the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources. All abandoned wells must be properly and legally decommissioned according to state law by a licensed pump installation contractor or well contractor. 
Abandoned Well Verification Program
State law and Upper Big Blue NRD Ground Water Management Area regulations require that any well that is abandoned must be properly decommissioned.  Proper decommissioning means that a well that will no longer be used must be permanently sealed in a manner defined by state regulations. An unsealed, abandoned well is a potential source of contamination to groundwater. Contaminants from the surface such as fertilizer, animal wastes, or agricultural chemicals can travel through the unsealed well to the aquifer.  Notification of decommissioning must be made to the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources and the NRD. Improperly decommissioned wells pose a potential groundwater quality and public safety risk.
In 1989, the district began a program to determine the status of wells that have been reported as abandoned or that are not registered with the district. A public education program has been implemented to inform people of the hazards of incorrectly abandoning wells and the importance of notification. In addition, a field survey is being made to identify improperly abandoned wells and encourage well owners to correct the situation.
AQWACAP: Aquifer Quality Well Abandonment Cost-Share Assistance Program
This program provides cost-share for the proper decommissioning of abandoned wells.  Wells must be decommissioned according to Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services System regulations governing water well abandonment standards. All decommissioning activities must be conducted by a licensed pump installation contractor or well contractor. 

The cost-share rate is 60% of the actual labor and materials.
The maximum cost-share rate for the proper plugging of wells of various casing diameters is $750.
All below-ground pipe and any above-ground pipe, tower, or apparatus that may impede the plugging activity must be removed. Any cost incurred for this removal is not eligible for cost-share. The district may require that a district representative be present during the actual plugging process. (This will be done on a random basis.)
Application Process
The well owner must submit a completed Aquifer Quality Well Abandonment Cost-Share Assistance Program Application. State and Federal laws also require that two additional forms be completed and on file with the district. They are the “United States Citizenship Attestation Form” and “Form W-9 Request for Taxpayer Identification Number and Certification” (forms). The well owner or his/her power of attorney must sign the completed forms. For an application packet please contact the NRD office at (402) 362-6601 or access the forms on our website. The cost-share application must be approved by the Upper Big Blue NRD before work may begin. 
Claim and Payment Process
A copy of the water well contractors itemized billing statement showing quantities of materials used in decommissioning the well must be provided to the Upper Big Blue NRD.  All final payments must be approved by the Upper Big Blue NRD board of directors prior to payment.

Groundwater Management Area Monitoring Well Network

Nine cluster wells have been installed around the district and are used to collect water samples. They have been carefully constructed to prevent any outside sources of contamination from entering the water at those points. Each well site has two or three wells drilled into separate water sources (aquifers separated by clay layers). Samples from these wells give the district the most accurate representation of the groundwater at these sites. The sites were selected as representative of specific areas within the district. Each well cluster is sampled twice a year.
In addition to the cluster wells, approximately 200 irrigation, domestic and other registered wells have been selected for sampling. These wells are sampled periodically to determine the groundwater nitrate levels in the Groundwater Management Area for Quality. These wells were selected by the USGS and the district based on criteria that ensure the district is getting the best available data on nitrate levels.

Chemigation Permits

State law requires anyone who applies agricultural chemicals or fertilizer through an irrigation system to first obtain a chemigation permit from his or her local NRD.  Each chemigation site must have its own permit. Before issuing a permit, the district must conduct an inspection of the site to determine that the proper safety equipment is in place and operating.
The required safety equipment includes:

  • A mainline check valve with zero leakage
  • A low pressure drain that will discharge at least 20 feet from the well
  • A chemical line check valve with zero leakage and a minimum of ten pounds per square inch opening pressure
  • An interlock that prevents chemical injection when the irrigation well is not pumping water
  • A vacuum relief valve between the well and the mainline check valve
  • An inspection port with a minimum four-inch diameter

Each application for a permit to chemigate must list a certified applicator. A certified applicator is the only person who may apply fertilizer or agricultural chemicals through an irrigation system. To become a certified chemigation applicator, a person must attend a training session and pass a test. The training and testing program is operated by the Cooperative Extension Service and the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality. For information on becoming certified, contact your local extension office.
Application fees are $60 for new permits and $20 for renewals. Application forms are available online.

Flow Meter Maintenance and Repair Cost-Share

The district is in the mandatory reporting phase of the Groundwater Management Area Rules and Regulations. Proper flow meter maintenance is critical to ensure accurate measurement of groundwater withdrawal. Without regular maintenance flow meters will begin to provide inaccurate data and eventually fail. Routine flow meter inspection and maintenance is required for all irrigation flow meters in the district. Mechanical flow meters will be inspected and serviced on a five (5) year rotation. 
Maintenance and inspection will include an evaluation of the flow meter’s current operating condition, compliance with minimum installation requirements, lubrication of bearings and mounting gaskets as needed. A protective cover often referred to as a “canopy boot” may be provided at the district’s discretion. Electronic flow meters will be visited every four (4) years. The district will replace batteries. The cost of batteries will be billed to the owner of the flow meter.
All flow meters used on irrigation wells are required to be enrolled.
Cost-Share Rate
There is no charge for this service. One hundred percent (100%) of the program's funding is provided by the district. Costs associated with repairs of a flow meter and/or its proper installation, determined by the maintenance inspection, are the responsibility of the well owner. Some flow meters may qualify for cost-share assistance for repairs.

The purpose of these practices is to encourage the efficient use of groundwater for irrigation. NRD funds will be used to provide cost-share for these practices.  

Eligibility For Flow Meter Repair (Mechanical)
Flow meters used in the district are eligible for flow meter repair cost-share. A flow meter is not eligible for repair more than once every four (4) years. Flow meters are not eligible while under warranty. Repair must include proper installation in accordance with the district and manufacturer's requirements. The district may waive the "proper installation” requirements for flow meters installed voluntarily prior to June 30, 2010, if the district can determine that the meter is recording accurately (plus or minus five percent). 
Cost–Share Rate
The cost-share rate is fifty percent (50%) not to exceed $300 per flow meter repair.  The maximum cost-share per landowner for flow meter repair is $1,000 per fiscal year.  The minimum cost-share payment is $100. 

Municipal Assistance Program

This program is intended to provide assistance to communities for improvements in their water system to mitigate the impacts of non-point source groundwater contamination for the protection and public health of the community’s residents. The reasons for system improvements must be related to the impacts of contamination from pollution sources which are non-point in nature, not from point source contamination. General modification, improvement, or expansion of a water well or distribution system are ineligible activities.

Eligible Communities
Incorporated cities and villages whose wellhead protection area lies, all or in part, in the district and who have a Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy approved wellhead protection or drinking water protection plan.

A community must be facing present or imminent threat of the water supply from non-point pollution and making plans for infrastructural modifications to continue to provide their residents clean, potable water.

Practices include         
Assistance may be applied to any or all of the following purposes:

  • Engineering assistance to determine the best alternatives for water system improvements.
  • Assistance in well location identification. 
  • Assistance in water source development if a new well or other water Source is necessary because of non-point pollution.
  • Water treatment if required due to non-point pollution.   


The district will provide financial assistance to the city or village in the amount not to exceed 25% of the local share of project cost. 
The district will consider funding amount on a case by case basis up to a maximum of $100,000 per community. If part of the applicant’s wellhead protection area also lies, in another natural resources district, the district may adjust its contribution.
Financial assistance per community over a five-year period is limited to the maximum amount provided.
Total funding under this program will be limited to the amount budgeted for the program annually by the Board of Directors with consideration given to District budgetary obligations. The NRD reserves the right to evaluate and screen requests and prioritize requests based on urgency of needs or administrative orders issued to the community by the Nebraska Health and Human Services.

Application Process
Applications will be accepted throughout the year. Applications received by April 1 of each year will be reviewed and ranked. The applicants will be notified of approval, rejection or qualified approval in July. Final approval is subject to adoption of the district budget, which normally occurs at the August Board of Directors meeting. If Municipal Water System Assistance Program funds are unobligated following the budget approval, a second review and ranking will be done on all applications received by October 1. Applicants considered during the second review will be notified of approval, rejection or qualified approval by January 1.

Cooperative Agreement
Approved applicants must enter into a cooperative agreement with the District stipulating the conditions for receipt of Municipal Water System Assistance Program funds.

The following outline will assist you with your application. A complete application must address all nine items in the outline. Please be concise. The application should not exceed 6 pages. If additional information is necessary, the district will request it.

  1. Name of the community 
  2. Contact information (name, address, phone, fax, email) for the following:
    • Mayor, Board Chairman
    • Administrative Representative (City Manager, Secretary, Village Clerk)
    • Water System Operator
    • Engineer 
  3. Is the community currently on Administrative Order from the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services for exceeding the MCL for nitrates? If “YES”, include a copy of the Order.
  4. Does the community have a Wellhead Protection Plan or Drinking Water Protection Plan approved by the Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy? Date plan was adopted. (DO NOT SEND COPY OF PLAN WITH THIS APPLICATION).
  5. Community population based on most recent census. Does the water system serve any population outside the community? If so, how many additional people are served? 
  6. List the following information for each active community well.
    • Registration number
    • The most recent water analysis
  7. Include a narrative explaining the project objective and components. The narrative should not exceed one page. 
  8. Project cost and timeline.
    • A budget summary of the major project components.
    • The estimated time for project completion. 
  9. Other funding sources: List all other funding sources the community has or plans to request funds from for this project. Include the agency and contact information for each funding source.

Point of Use Reverse Osmosis Water Filtration System Pilot Program

The Point of Use Reverse Osmosis Water Filtration System Pilot Program is intended to aid private well owners whose drinking water nitrates are above the safe drinking water standard set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Current EPA standards for drinking water nitrate is 10 ppm.

There are different types of water treatment and water treatment systems. For this pilot program, the Upper Big Blue Natural Resources District (District) will focus on point of use reverse osmosis water filtration systems with a separate faucet. Reverse osmosis water filtration systems (RO) connect to existing water lines under a sink or refrigerator water dispenser.  Using pressure, water is forced through semi-permeable filters. Contaminants bind to the filter media allowing clean water to pass through.

Properly maintained reverse osmosis water filtration systems will remove drinking water nitrate.

Funding Availability

For approved RO system applications, the maximum cost-share rate is 75% of the actual cost of materials and labor up to $500.00. The minimum cost-share payment is $100.00. During the pilot phase, the amount of NRD funds will not exceed $7,500.00 per fiscal year.

Eligible Cooperators

  • Homeowners connected to a private well as their sole drinking water source. Homeowners connected to a municipal water system are not eligible.
  • Homeowners with a lab analysis of over 10 ppm.
  • Only one filtration system per rural residential parcel.
  • Those landowners who are in compliance with all Upper Big Blue District Rules and Regulations.

Practice Requirements

  1. The domestic well must test over the EPA safe drinking water standard of 10 ppm. Samples may be brought to the Upper Big Blue NRD office at 319 East 25th Street, York, NE for analysis.
  2. W-9 Form (Request for Taxpayer Identification Number and Certification) and a Citizenship Attestation Form must accompany the completed application to be considered.
  3. Well registration is not required through this pilot program.
  4. The application must be approved before items can be purchased and installed.
  5. The system must be installed by a licensed plumber or dealer's technician.
  6. Filtration system must fit the ANSI or NSF standards.
  7. Upon completion of the project, the applicant must submit a copy of the receipt and photo of the installation to be eligible for final payment and a receipt of installation from the licensed plumber or dealer’s technician.
  8. Applicant shall submit a post installation water test showing that the system meets the EPA safe drinking water standard of less than 10 ppm. Samples may be brought to the Upper Big Blue NRD office at 319 East 25th Street, York, NE 68467 for analysis.

Eligible Components for Cost-Share Include

  • Point of use faucet
  • Pressure tank
  • Initial System Filter components (not replacement filters)

Ineligible Cost-Share Items

  • Whole home filtration systems
  • Countertop filtration systems
  • End of faucet filtration systems

Approval Process

Approved applications will be notified in writing. Upon approval the applicant will have 90 days to complete the purchase and installation of the RO unit. At the end of the 90-day period all projects not completed will be notified via email that their application has been cancelled. After completion, final invoices must be turned in to the NRD for final payment. Any purchases of materials made prior to NRD approval are not eligible for funding.

Cost Share Rate

The cost-share rate will be 75% of the actual cost for material and labor for the RO unit not to exceed $500.00. The minimum cost share payment is $100.00.


To apply for this cost-share program:

  1. Bring a sample of your water to our office*. (Water Sample Guidelines)
  2. If our lab confirms the sample is above 10 ppm for nitrate, complete the application form and return it to the NRD. You will also need to complete a W-9 and a Citizenship Attestation Form. (Please do not submit these materials electronically, as they contain sensitive ID information.) 
  3. If your application is approved, you will be notified in writing.
  4. Once you have been approved, you will have 90 days to purchase the RO system and have it installed by a licensed plumber or dealer's technician.
  5. When installation is complete, bring your receipts to the NRD along with a sample of water from your newly installed RO system, and a photo of the installed system.
  6. Once staff have confirmed that 1) the RO system is functioning properly by testing the new sample (must be below 10 ppm for nitrate) and 2) all of your documentation is complete, staff will forward your materials to the board of directors for approval for payment. Payment will be in the form of a paper check mailed to you following board approval.
  7. All forms and tests must be completed prior to the 10th of the month in order to process the payment during that month.  

*You may also submit documentation from a state certified lab indicating a water sample of greater than 10 PPM instead of utilizing our lab. Testing costs from another lab, if incurred, are not covered by cost-share.