Groundwater Quantity

Groundwater Quantity

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 Quantity 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. 

Flow Meters

Flow Meters
Flow Meters
The Upper Big Blue Natural Resources District encourages the efficient use of groundwater for irrigation so that there will continue to be abundant water for all beneficial uses in our district. NRD funds are available for irrigators to repair and maintain flow meters. 

Repairs: Cost-Share Eligibility

All flow meters used in the district are eligible for flow meter repair cost-share once every four years. Mandatory flow meters are not eligible until the meter has been installed for four (4) years. Flow meters are not cost-share eligible while still under manufacturer’s warranty. Repairs must include proper installation in accordance with the district’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).  

Repairs: 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. 

Maintenance Program

The district is in the mandatory reporting phase of the Groundwater Management Area Rules and Regulations. Proper maintenance is critical to insuring that flow meters accurately measure 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

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

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.

Eligibility & Cost-Share

All flow meters used on irrigation wells are required to be enrolled. 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. Applications for flow meter repair cost-share are available at or by contacting the office at (402) 362-6601.

Certifying Irrigated Acres

Certifying Irrigated Acres
Certifying Irrigated Acres

In 1990, the Upper Big Blue Natural Resources District Board of Directors set a goal of holding our district’s water levels to the average level measured in 1978. The board set two “trigger” points to ensure they could meet that goal, which applies to all wells located within thedistrict’s Groundwater Management Area #1. The management area includes almost the entire district, except a very small portion of Fillmore County and a portion of eastern Seward County.

The first trigger point was set at three feet above the 1978 average water levels of our district. This trigger point was reached in 2007, and initiated a reporting phase that requires land owners to certify the number of acres being irrigated, and to make annual reports on the amount of water pumped from the wells. This phase will remain in effect even if water levels rise.

If the average water level in our district drops below the 1978 level, which is the second trigger point set by the board, we would move into an allocation phase. The water allocation each land owner receives will be based on how many certified acres are being irrigated by wells located within our district. It should be noted that unless the property is in a fully appropriated area, you can continue to develop additional acres during the allocation phase.

Each spring we mail certification forms to each land owner, or their representative, for review. The forms do not need to be returned unless there are changes or corrections. Because changes happen through-out the year, there is no deadline for submitting corrected forms to our office.

Crop Water Usage Data

Crop Water Usage Data
Crop Water Usage Data

Groundwater Levels

Groundwater Withdrawls

Groundwater Withdrawls
Groundwater Withdrawls


Paper reporting forms are mailed to all irrigators annually. However, the NRD also offers an online option for water usage reporting. Each person responsible for reporting water use will receive a reporting packet along with an activation key for online reporting. That activation key can be used to create your online account. Once logged in, you will have the ability to view pertinent information about each well, along with an aerial image of the well location, and a screen to enter your ending flowmeter reading. 

FAQs, reporting portal access, and troubleshooting help are at

Reporting: Why We Do It

The NRD board of directors set a goal of holding district water levels to the average level measured in 1978. The board set two trigger points to ensure they could meet that goal: If the average water level dropped within three feet of the average 1978 level, it would trigger a reporting phase; if the water level dropped below the average 1978 level, it would trigger an allocation phase.

Water levels dropped in 2007, initiating the reporting phase. At that time it became mandatory for operators within the district to report water use each year for wells pumping more than 50 gallons per minute (GPM). Multiple wells with the same purpose on the same property with a combined pumping rate exceeding 50 GPM are also required to report use each year. These annual reports will still be required even if the water levels rise.

Water withdrawal reports for irrigation wells are mailed each fall and must be returned (or completed online) by December 1. Reports for all other wells (those other than irrigation) are due by March 1. 
Each well has a designated primary operator –  the person responsible for reporting the total amount of water pumped from the well that year, including water applied to properties where he is not the operator.

If the water is used for multiple purposes (i.e., irrigation and to fill a recreational pond), you will need to report each use separately.  If an irrigation well is use minimally during the winter to water livestock, you may combine the total use on your irrigation report.

Should the average water level in the district drop below the average 1978 level (the second trigger point) we would move into an allocation period and meters would be required on all wells equipped with a pump. At this time meters are only required on wells permitted and drilled after March 1, 2004. Failure to turn in an annual report as required could result in a fine and/or a cease and desist order on the unreported well(s). 

How to Calculate Number of Inches Applied Per Acre for Meters Measuring In Acre Inches or Acre Feet

  1. Subtract the beginning reading from the ending reading. (If your meter measures in acre feet, multiply the difference by 12.)
  2. Multiply the answer from step 1 by the multiplier shown on your meter. Generally, this will be 1, .01, .001, etc. The answer will be the number of acre inches of water you pumped. 
  3. Divide the answer in step 3 by the number of acres irrigated with that well. This is the number of inches you applied per acre. 

Ending reading................................417,416
Less beginning reading.................-314,504
Times multiplier shown on meter....x 0.01
Equals acre inches pumped..........1029.12
Divided by acres the well irrigates.... ÷134
Equals inches applied per acre............7.68

How to Calculate Number of Inches Applied Per Acre for Meters Measuring In Gallons

  1. Subtract the beginning reading from the ending reading. 
  2. Multiply the answer from step 1 by the multiplier shown on your meter. (Generally, this will be 100, 1000, 10000, etc.) This sum will be the number of gallons you pumped.  
  3. Divide the answer from step 2 by 27,154 to convert the number of gallons to acre inches (27,154 gallons = 1 acre inch)
  4. Divide the answer in step 3 by the number of acres irrigated with that well. This is the number of inches you applied per acre. 
Ending reading................................558,624
Less beginning reading.................-269,834
Times multiplier shown on meter.....x 100
Equals gallons pumped............ 28,879,000
Divided by 27,157............................÷27,157
Equals acre inches pumped..........1,063.53
Divided by acres the well irrigates......÷156
Equals inches applied per acre.............6.82

Important Note

If your ending number is less than your beginning number, the meter’s odometer probably reached its maximum and it has rolled over and started at one again. (For example, most McCrometer meters display six digits. When they reach 999,999, the display will roll-over and start at 000001.) You will need to adjust the difference between your beginning and ending readings if this happens. 



(Nebraska Rainfall Assessment and Information Network)

NeRAIN is a program designed to include volunteers in a study of Nebraska’s complex patterns of rain, hail and snow.  Many volunteers are needed in order to accurately collect precipitation data.  Anyone can participate in this project, from children first learning about weather patterns in school, to retired adults interested in the phenomenon that is Nebraska weather.  The only requirement is that each volunteer report weather conditions on a routine basis.  Each time a rain, hail, or snow storm passes through the area, volunteers are asked to take measurements of precipitation, as well as hail characteristics.   These measurements are used by scientists, crop consultants, farmers, and other entities.  

Please review the District map to see if you are in an area within the white ovals in need of a NeRAIN volunteer.  To sign up to become a volunteer and receive a FREE rain gauge, please feel free to call our office for more information at (402) 362-6601.

Water Transfers

Water Transfers
Water Transfers

A groundwater transfer is the act of pumping water from a well in one survey section of land and piping it to another survey section of land to irrigate.  The NRD has had regulations limiting such transfers since 1982.

Newly adopted regulations in 2014, prohibit new groundwater irrigation transfers in the designated “High-Risk” Groundwater Area.  The area that is now closed to new transfers is shown on the “High-Risk Groundwater Area” map.  Existing groundwater transfers in the designated areas may continue, but may not increase irrigated acres.  

In areas outside the “High-Risk” groundwater area, existing regulations already limit the size and distance that groundwater may be transferred.  Groundwater transfers must be authorized by the NRD Board of Directors prior to implementation.  

High-Risk Groundwater Areas

No transfer of water into, out of, or within the High-Risk Groundwater Area.

Well Spacing Rules:

  • Two miles from municipal wells.
  • 1,250 ft. from ALL high capacity wells.
  • 1,250 ft. from domestic wells under different ownership.

Maximum of:

  • 1 well per 80 acres or less.
  • 2 wells per 160 acres or less.

Well Permits

Well Permits
Well Permits
A well permit is required under any of the following conditions:
  • A new or replacement well designed to withdraw more than 50 GPM.
  • An existing well that currently withdraws 50 GPM or less, is proposed to be modified to withdraw more than 50 GPM.
  • A well is proposed to be combined with another well or wells so that the total withdrawal is greater than 50 GPM.

Permitting FAQs
  • How long does the permitting process usually take?
A permit must be submitted and approved by district staff before drilling can commence. Normally, this process takes 2-3 days; however, the district has the authority to hold a permit for 30 days before final approval or rejection is issued.
  • What fees are required?
A non-refundable $50 permit fee is required with each well permit.
  • How do I know if my permit has been approved?
Once a permit is approved by district staff, the approved permit is e-mailed (or mailed, if no e-mail address is on file) to: the owner of the permit; the well driller; the county assessor and county zoning offices; the local city or village (if it is within their jurisdiction); and the State of Nebraska’s Department of Natural Resources. If you do not receive a copy of the approved permit within a week or two of submittal, please contact the NRD office.
  • Why do you send copies of the approved permit to so many people?
Each of these entities have rules and regulations governing wells and need the information on the permit for their processes.
  • Once I have an approved permit, is my well registered by the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources?
No, the well must be drilled before it can be registered with the state. The driller is required to submit a form to the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources after the well is drilled.
  • Is a water flow meter required on my new well?
Yes, wells permitted after March 2004 are required to have a functioning flow meter installed. The permit gives permission for district staff to enter the property to check that an approved flow meter is correctly installed on the well upon completion before pumping begins. If you have questions about the approved flow meter list or installation specifications, please contact the NRD office.
  • Who can apply for a well drilling permit?
Since the well will stay with the property, the landowner is the only person eligible to apply for the permit. The landowner is the deed holder at the County Assessor’s Office. All well permits must come from the person whose name is listed on the deed.
  • Are there spacing requirements for a new or replacement well?
Yes. A well must be 1,000 ft away from a well of different ownership that pumps over 50 GPM. This normally does not include domestic wells since they pump less than 50 GPM. In a High Risk Groundwater Area, additional well spacing regulations apply. 
  • Does the approved permit double as my certification paperwork?
No. District staff will contact you upon completion of the well to certify the irrigated acres and collect the operator information.

Download a well permit application on our Forms page.

High-Risk Groundwater Areas



Water-Tip (Watermark ATmometER—Timed Irrigation Project)

Project “WATER—TIP” began in May 2005 by installing atmometers and Watermark® sensors at twenty cooperators’ farms throughout the Upper Big Blue NRD.  In 2006, we saw the numbers of cooperators jump to 67 members involved with WATER-TIP.  As a result, the District offered a pilot 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-, 3- and 4-foot depths.  (The actual equipment may vary depending on specific needs at each site).