Groundwater Quality

Groundwater Quality

NRDs Are Managing Water Statewide

Nebraska’s 23 Natural Resources Districts (NRDs) are uniquely positioned to manage the conservation of the state’s natural resources through local governance.  Because of Nebraska’s diverse geology, climatology, and hydrology, each NRD—and it’s locally elected board of directors—are able to enact rules, regulations, and programs that can assist its District’s citizens and protect local natural resources for future generations to share.  Water management regulations in particular include allocating groundwater, augmenting surface water, requiring flow meters, instituting well drilling moratoriums, requiring water use reports, and restricting the expansion of irrigated acres.  Individual NRDs use these regulations in different combinations and to different degrees depending on their respective geographic areas of concern.  Click on the Statewide Water Quality Map showing all 23 NRDs and their most recent status of water management techniques. 

So why does this matter to you?   Quite simply, Nebraska’s NRDs are working to ensure that you and future generations can continue to share in the use and enjoyment of our natural resources.  

Nebraska’s NRDs:  Protecting Lives, Protecting Property, and Protecting the Future

Water Testing

Water Testing
Water Testing
Owners’ Responsibility
The NRD offers free analysis for nitrates and bacteria in groundwater. Rural domestic wells are not held to public water system regulations; therefore it is the well owners’ responsibility to ensure safe drinking water. These wells should be tested at least once a year for both nitrates and bacteria.

Drinking Water Standards
The safe drinking water standard is ten parts per million for nitrates in public water supplies. Pregnant women, nursing mothers, and babies less than 6 months old are at the highest risk for nitrate poisoning. A condition called methemolobinemia, commonly 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. 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. For more information regarding health risks of high nitrates and bacterial contamination please consult with a physician. 

Testing Nitrates
  • You may use your own container, although the NRD will provide a sample bottle if requested.
  • The container must be washed and rinsed before the sample is collected
  • Collect the sample from a hydrant or faucet that is connected to the waterline closest to the well. 
  • Do not let the sample pass through a water treatment device (distiller, R/O, softener) unless you wish to test that device’s effectiveness. If you are doing this, we recommend you also provide an untreated sample for comparison.
  • Let the water run for at least 10 minutes before collecting the sample.
  • Rinse the sample container with water 3 times before collecting the sample.
  • Fill the sample container approximately ½ inch from the top.
  • Rinse the lid and place it securely on the container.
  • If you cannot deliver the sample immediately, it must be refrigerated. Deliver the sample to the NRD office within 24 hours.
  • Keep the sample cool during transport.

Bacteria
  • You must use a sterile bottle provided by the NRD. This bottle is sealed and needs to remain sealed until you are ready to collect the sample.
  • Collect the sample from a hydrant or faucet that is connected to the waterline closest to the well.
  • Let the water run for at least 10 minutes before collecting the sample.
  • Shut off the water.
  • Using a match or cigarette lighter, expose the end of the hydrant to the flame for 3-6 seconds. Do not expose the plastic parts to a flame, it will damage the faucet.
  • DO NOT touch the inside of the bottle or lid.
  • Carefully fill the sample container to the fill line on the bottle. Do not rinse.
  • Secure the cap on the container.
  • If you cannot deliver the sample immediately, it must be refrigerated. Deliver the sample to the NRD office within 24 hours. 

Groundwater Quality Study Information

AQWACAP - Well Abandonment Cost-Share

AQWACAP - Well Abandonment Cost-Share
AQWACAP - Well Abandonment Cost-Share

Aquifer Quality Well Abandonment Cost-Share Assistance Program

Wells that have not been properly decommissioned are a direct conduit for contaminants to gain entry into our drinking water.   

The Aquifer Quality Well Abandonment Cost-Share Assistance Program (AQWACAP) provides funds for proper decommissioning of wells. 

Wells must be decommissioned according Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services System regulations governing water well standards. All decommissioning activities must be conducted by a licensed contractor. 

The cost-share rate is 60 percent of the actual labor and materials. The maximum cost-share rates for the proper plugging of wells of various casing diameters is $750 for all wells.                          

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 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 (this includes a United States Citizenship Attestation From and Form W-9 Request for Taxpayer Identification Number and Certification, in compliance with state and federal law). The well owner or his/her power of attorney must sign the completed forms.  

 

Cost-Share payments will only be made to one individual or entity. If there are multiple landowners, please complete information for only one individual or entity. Payment will be made according to the completed Taxpayer Identification Form (W-9)

The cost-share application must be approved by the Upper Big Blue NRD before work may begin. Please call the office if you need immediate assistance. 

Claim and Payment Process: A copy of the licensed contractors itemized invoice for the well decommissioning 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. 

 

Cover Crops

Cover Crops
Cover Crops
Cover Crops
Having plants growing most months of the year has many benefits.  Cover crops prevent wind and water erosion to soils by providing cover to the land surface.  That same cover acts as a mulch to suppress weed germination.  The plant material and root network feed soil microbes, break hardpans, sequester nitrogen, and increase organic matter.


Soil Health
The biology of the soil includes bacteria, fungus, arthropods, and earthworms to name a few.  To have healthy soil there needs to be a vibrant soil biology which will provide plant protection and give plants better access to water and nutrients.
 

 
 

Chemigation

Chemigation
Chemigation

Chemigation (a.k.a. fertigation) uses a center pivot or subsurface drip irrigation system to apply fertilizer or pesticides to growing crops. It allows producers to spoon-feed fertilizer to a crop at the precise time when the crop needs it, cutting down on the amount of fertilizer leached below the root zone and lost by the crop.

Getting Started

To begin using chemigation in your operation, there are a few things you should know.  First, you will need a person with a chemigation certification number. This person can be you, someone you know, a crop consultant, or coop representative. To get a certification number, this person must attend a training course and pass a written exam.  

  1. Contact your local Nebraska Extension agent for training details.  
  2. Get a permit from the NRD. You can apply for a permit at any time during the year, but we suggest applying early, preferably before June 1.
  3. Pass a field inspection at the injection site. A field inspection has four key components.  
  • Approved chemigation mainline check valve: This valve differs from a normal check valve in that it has a removable vacuum relief valve and a low pressure drain. 
  • Electrical or mechanical interlock: This ensures that if the well would shut down, pivot gets stuck, or the pivot loses pressure that the entire chemigation and irrigation systems shut down.
  • Chemical injection check valve: This small valve fits between the fertilizer tank and the irrigation system. Its purpose is to prevent the backflow of water from the irrigation system into the fertilizer tank. 
  • Drain hose attached to the low pressure drain:  The hose must drain any water from the low pressure drain at least twenty feet away from the well. 
 

FAQs


Do I need to pump water, and do I need to have the injection pump at the site to pass a field inspection?

Yes, you will need to pump water. No, you do not need to have the pump present at the time of inspection.  Water is needed to check the mainline check valve. We need to know that water is not passing from the irrigation system back down the well. The injection pump is not required to be on site, but the electrical plug-in is. We are able to use a voltage tester to check the plug-in. If the interlock is functioning properly, the plug in will lose current when the system is shut down.  

When can I get a permit?

Permits are issued on an annual basis each spring, with permits required on all injection sites. When a site is applied for initially, it will have to pass a field inspection before it can be used. If the permit is renewed annually, routine field inspections will be conducted every three years.

Nitrate Levels

Nitrate Levels
Nitrate Levels

Increasing nitrates in groundwater have been a concern in the Upper Big Blue NRD for many years. Several communities in the district have found it necessary to construct new wells to comply with state and federal drinking water standards. Some communities have built, or are considering, treatment plants. Many rural residents have also replaced wells or installed private water treatment systems.

Nitrate is found naturally in the environment, however excess nitrates that are causing groundwater contamination come primarily from the use of commercial fertilizers. Nitrogen fertilizer is needed to produce corn, however the amount and timing of the fertilizer application can reduce the risks of groundwater contamination. 

Since 1996, the NRD has required that farmers wait until November 1st to apply anhydrous and to wait until March 1st to apply other formulations of nitrogen fertilizer. In some parts of the district where groundwater nitrate is the highest (see map on reverse side), farmers are required to attend training classes, take soil samples, and calculate crop nitrogen needs. Despite these efforts, groundwater nitrate levels have continued to rise. The NRD encourages producers to adopt fertilizer management practices that will reduce the chance of nitrate leaching out of the crop root zone and to use other strategies, such as cover crops, to sequester residual nitrogen, holding it in the soil.


Rule 5 Summary 

(See Complete Regulations)

The district’s groundwater quality regulations are broken into three phases.

  • Phase I - applies to the entire NRD. Anhydrous ammonia may not applied for spring planted row crops until November 1 each year. Other forms of nitrogen fertilizers may not be applied until March 1. (Exemptions: fertilizing of non-row crops such as wheat, rye, oats, pasture, etc.). The application of manure, municipal sludge or industrial waste must be in compliance with state regulations. The application of fertilizers when nitrogen is not the largest percentage of the formulation and the total nitrogen applied per acre is less than 25 lbs.  
  • Phase II  - applies to areas where the NRD has determined that the median groundwater nitrate level exceeds 7 parts per million. Requirements include: Phase I requirements continue; Producers must attend nutrient management training once every 4 years; Shallow and deep soil sampling to depths of 8 inches for nitrate and organic matter and 24 inches for residual nitrate is required for fields where corn or sorghum follow corn or sorghum; Electrical resistance blocks or capacitance probes used to measure soil moisture must to installed by each farm operator to schedule irrigation in at least one field; and, reports on fertilizer and irrigation management practices must be submitted annually.
  • Phase III - applies to areas where the NRD has determined that the median ground-water nitrate level exceeds 10 parts per million. Currently Zone 5 in central York County is in Phase III. Requirements include:  Phase I and II requirements continue; Soil sampling as described in Phase II must be done on a maximum of 40 acre grids; and, irrigation water sampling for nitrates is required; irrigation water from each active irrigation well must be tested once every three years for nitrates; and a district-approved nitrification inhibitor must be applied at the manufacturer’s recommended rate if nitrogen fertilizer is applied prior to March 1. N-Serve is the only district approved nitrification inhibitor. 

Wellhead Protection

Wellhead Protection
Wellhead Protection

Hastings Utilities Aquifer Storage & Restoration

Due to increasing nitrate contamination in the groundwater, the City of Hastings​ has implemented a unique solution for water quality. In 2017, the Aquifer Storage and Restoration (ASR) project went online. The city invested $46M in the project (much less than the cost of a water treatment facility to remediate the contamination) and are seeing results from the investment. Full details: 

Nitrate Management Zones

Nitrate Management Zones
Nitrate Management Zones

Changes to District Rule 5 for setting the trigger levels in Phase II and Phase III management areas went into effect on February 1, 2013.  The Phase II trigger is 7 milligrams per liter (mg/l).  Zone 2 has a median groundwater nitrate level of 7.4 mg/l.  

Phase II producers are required to use electrical resistance blocks or capacitance probes to schedule irrigation in one field.  Scheduling irrigation using soil moisture information can reduce the risk of excess irrigation leaching nutrients from the root zone.  In a Phase II Management Area, producers are also required to take deep (24”) soil samples for residual nitrate in a corn field where corn will be planted again. It also requires producer training and annual reporting of management practices.

Increasing nitrates in groundwater have been a concern in the Upper Big Blue NRD for several years. Several communities in the District have found it necessary to construct new wells to comply with state and federal drinking water standards.  Some communities have built, or are considering, treatment plants.  Many rural residents have also replaced wells or installed private water treatment systems.

Nitrate is found naturally in the environment, however excess nitrates that are causing groundwater contamination come primarily from the use of commercial fertilizers.  Nitrogen fertilizer is needed to produce corn, however the amount and timing of the fertilizer application can reduce the risks of groundwater contamination.  

Since 1996, the NRD has required that farmers wait until November 1st to apply anhydrous, and to wait until March 1st to apply other formulations of nitrogen fertilizer.  In some parts of the District where groundwater nitrate is the highest, farmers are required by existing regulations to attend training classes, take soil samples, and calculate crop nitrogen needs.  Despite these efforts, groundwater nitrate levels have continued to rise.   
 

On-Farm Research

On-Farm Research
On-Farm Research
Are you interested in partnering with the NRD and the University of Nebraska Extension Office in conducting research on your farm? Please complete this form or reach out to us at 402-362-6601 to get started.