Innovative Water Plan Recognized with Statewide Award

Innovative Water Plan Recognized with Statewide Award

What’s the use of having plenty of water available if it is not drinkable?

This is the question posed by the One District, Two Plans, One Water initiative, which seeks to protect both water quality and water quantity by managing the two objectives together in the Upper Big Blue Natural Resources District (NRD). The NRD was recently recognized with the “Best Practice Award” from the American Planning Association’s Nebraska Chapter for the community supported planning project.  

The project was unique as it was the state’s first-ever combined water quality management and voluntary integrated management planning process. The two planning efforts are typically conducted separately, but the NRD seized the opportunity to combine two inseparable priorities for water: quality and quantity.

The One District, Two Plans, One Water process was created in partnership with the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources (NeDNR) and the Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy (NDEE). The process involved feedback and continuous input from a stakeholder group of 18 district citizens who represented different types of water users (industry, residential, recreation, and agriculture).  

The design of the combined planning processes built momentum for action and public support as its structure allowed stakeholders to develop a sense of ownership. Throughout the process, the stakeholder group members repeatedly commented how well the draft goals and objectives reflected their conversations and their values. This helped foster trust between citizens and the collaborating state and local agencies. With that trust, stakeholders more readily identified the types of action items that they or their neighbors would likely support and voluntarily implement. This process also helped the NRD and agency partners to identify the types of assistance most needed at the local and individual property level. Sitting at the table with NDEE and NeNDR staff, stakeholders also began to see state agencies as partners rather than regulators.

The process was started in 2018 and the plan was implemented in 2020. The planning process resulted in two interconnected plans shaped by a common interest. While the plans share the same vision statement, each possesses its own unique set of goals and objectives that complement those of the other plan.

JEO Consulting Group, Inc, was instrumental in managing the stakeholder process and it was JEO that nominated the NRD program for the award from the American Planning Association Nebraska Chapter. Their nomination materials state, “While these planning processes have historically been conducted separately, the NRD recognized the interrelatedness of the plans and worked with NDEE and NeDNR to pioneer a combined process… Everyone uses water, making the management of water quality and quantity a matter of public health and safety.” The action plan is to be annually reviewed for progress and updated every five years.

In the future, other Nebraska NRDs might replicate this process within their own district to develop similar plans.