Project Process

Project Process
Project Process
All requests for new district projects, whether outdoor classrooms, wildlife habitat contracts, large flood control dams, recreation or other projects, are generally handled in the same manner.  More complicated projects may require extensive efforts and, of course, additional time to achieve completion. The process starts with an idea presented to the district staff, as shown below:
  1. An idea is presented to district staff.
  2. The staff makes an initial investigation.
  3. The staff prepares a preliminary feasibility report.
  4. A committee of NRD board members adopts or declines the project. If adopted, the committee recommends the project to the entire board for consideration.
  5. The board either declines or adopts the project.
  6. The staff completes detailed planning.
  7. The committee reviews, suggests changes and recommends the plan to the board.
  8. The board reviews, suggests changes and approves the plan.
  9. The board considers funding. Large projects could be funded with only NRD funds, or cost sharing with others, and could include funds from multiple sources.
  10. The staff makes detailed construction drawings.
  11. A contractor is hired.
  12. Construction or implementation begins.
  13. The board accepts work and authorizes payments. 
Coordination with the landowners involved and affected cities, counties and other governmental entities and agencies takes place throughout the planning, construction and operation phases of a project.  The NRD staff makes recommendations to the board of directors with respect to:
  • Program criteria established by the board
  • Feasibility
  • Design
  • Funding
  • Construction
  • Payments
  • Operation and maintenance 
All final decisions, including funding of cost-share projects, acceptance of contracts and the decision to build specific projects are made by the NRD’s board of directors.

Projects Funding

Projects Funding
Projects Funding

The district raises its locally-collected funds from a levy on all taxable properties throughout the district. Each NRD is limited by Nebraska law to a total tax of 5.5 cents per $100 actual valuation for the general and sinking funds. The Upper Big Blue NRD’s current levy is well below the maximum authorized by law. The monies raised from local taxes are used for program and project funding, as well as administration.  Depending on the type of program or project, various federal, state, local or private funds may be used, in addition to district funds. 
When permitted, the district expends funds from other funding agencies prior to committing NRD funds raised from local property tax on a project.  For example, Nebraska Soil and Water Conservation Program funds are expended for cost share on conservation practices prior to committing Land Treatment Program funds raised from local property tax.  Funding sources and arrangements can vary significantly depending on the size and complexity of the project.
For large projects that include multiple public benefits, such as flood control or flood hazard mitigation, the NRD could consider using funds from Federal agencies, such as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), or Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). 

The NRD could also consider applying for funding from State agencies such as the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources (NDNR), Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality, or Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.  Availability of funds and percentages of cost share provided by Federal and State agencies is highly dependent on their respective budgets from year to year.
The district cooperates with municipalities and counties to develop locally led projects.  For these, the NRD can act as Lead Agency, when requested to do so.  As Lead Agency the NRD can provide leadership in project planning, design, funding, and coordination with state and federal agencies. 
If a local entity requests the district to provide a project planning study costing more than $2,500, the district will fund 50% of the study cost and the requesting entity, and any other co-sponsors, will be responsible for funding the remaining 50% of study cost.  Before a study is initiated, the NRD and requesting entity would enter into an Interlocal Agreement.  If the entity does not proceed with implementation of the project being proposed in the planning study, within a time limit to be specified in the Interlocal Agreement, the entity must refund 50% of the study cost to the NRD.    
It is the district’s policy that payments for cost share on any project or program will not be made in amounts less than $100.
As mentioned above, the NRD has access to various funding sources.  Generally, funds established for a project or program will be available until obligated, or until the project or program is terminated.  Unless funds are established for a specific project or program, applications for funding will be taken on a first-come-first-served basis (i.e., the Land Treatment  and Nebraska Buffer Strip Programs).  For more specific details concerning any program, contact the district office in York.  The programs are described in detail in the following sections.


The district has the authority to establish Improvement Project Areas for both revenue producing and non-revenue producing projects that provide direct benefits to landowners in a specified area.  An Improvement Project Area is initiated by petition of the landowners in the specified area.  If petitioned, the district conducts a public hearing to receive testimony on the proposed project.  After reviewing the hearing testimony, the district board of directors may establish an Improvement Project Area.  If established, the district becomes the project sponsor and is responsible for planning, construction, operation, and maintenance of the project.  The decision as to whether or not the project proceeds to the construction and operation phase rests with the benefiting land owners; those land owners with at least 50% of the calculated benefit units must provide written objection to the project in order for the project not to proceed.
Projects such as irrigation water supply or rural water distribution systems are considered to be revenue producing, since fees can be collected for these services.  For these types of projects, those benefiting receive water delivery for either agricultural production or domestic water supply.  Each customer supplied is assigned a number of units based on the volume of water received.  Only those within the designated service area are eligible to receive water from the project.  The value of each unit of water supplied is determined by dividing the project cost by the total number of water units the system can supply.  Benefiting water users on the system are billed based the number of units of water received multiplied by the value per unit.  The district has the authority to collect unpaid accounts through a special property tax assessment.
Projects such as flood control or drainage improvements are considered to be non-revenue producing.  For these types of projects, the benefited lands include those parcels that experience a reduction in flood damages due to project construction.  Each parcel of land benefited is assigned a number of units of benefit based on the amount and frequency of flood damage reduction; lands with greater damage reduction will be assigned a higher number of benefit units per acre than those lands with less damage reduction.  Only those lands receiving direct benefit from the project can be assigned units of benefit.  The value of each unit of benefit is determined by dividing the project cost by the total number of benefit units for the project.  Benefiting landowners are assessed for project costs in proportion to their number of units of benefit.  These dollars are collected through a special property tax assessment.
Funds Available to Cooperators
The district will stand the cost of planning and engineering, only if the project is constructed.  Otherwise, the landowners who would have benefited from the completed project will be assessed the planning and engineering costs.  NRD, state and federal funds for construction and land rights costs are considered on a case-by-case basis and then only when the general public will benefit.

Sources of Funds
Improvement Projects are a legal mechanism for landowners who want to establish a joint project under the guidance of the district.  The landowners can expect to pay the bulk of the necessary land rights and construction costs.  The district funds for Improvement Projects come from district tax revenues.  State and federal funds may come from several sources depending on the type of project.  Drainage projects are seldom eligible for state or federal funding.
Drainage projects include reclamation of either urban or rural lands currently subject to frequent inundation due to poor surface water drainage or a high groundwater table.  The district has adopted a cost-share policy on any studies needed for larger projects within the district.  If the cost of the study will exceed $2,500, the district will pay 50% of the cost with the co-sponsor or co-sponsors paying the remaining share.  Co-sponsors may be other governmental bodies or individuals.  Approval from the NRD board of directors is required before a study will be undertaken.
If requested by the project sponsors, the district will act as lead agency for the purposes of coordinating project planning, engineering, construction, operation and maintenance and collection and disbursement of funds.
Planning and Engineering
It is the district’s policy that the district’s share of planning and engineering costs for agricultural land drainage projects be repaid to the district if the project is not constructed.  Repayment of planning and engineering costs for urban drainage projects will be decided on a case-by-case basis.
Funds Available
The district does not include funding for drainage improvement projects in any annual budget, unless a specific request has been approved by the NRD board of directors.  Construction funds for drainage improvement projects can be obtained by establishing an Improvement Project Area as discussed above.

Water Storage and Flood Control Program

Water Storage and Flood Control Program
Water Storage and Flood Control Program
Water storage and flood control projects usually involve several landowners and/or agencies.  Projects for individuals are considered under the Land Treatment Program
Projects developed through this program generally include multiple benefits and require detailed planning, engineering, and coordination with all the parties concerned.  For this reason, a project of this nature requires two or more years of lead time before construction can be expected to begin.  Sites must be investigated, feasibility studies completed, agreements reached, designs completed, funding arranged, land rights and permits acquired, and construction funds authorized.  The district is limited in the number of these projects that it can actively handle at any time.  The NRD board of directors has established a priority list of active projects to effectively manage the district’s efforts.
The district has the authority to act as the Lead Agency (i.e., local sponsoring body) for projects.  As Lead Agency, the district  administers planning and feasibility studies, engineering design, construction, operation and maintenance, coordination with other sponsors, negotiating agreements, and any other aspects of the project.  The district  is authorized by Nebraska Statutes to enter into agreements with local, State, and Federal agencies, and to apply for local, state and/or federal funding.  Acting as Lead Agency, the district  would apply for and hold, on behalf of the sponsors, all permits, water rights, easements, and land titles for the project.  It is the district’s policy that as Lead Agency, the district  will operate and maintain the project on behalf of the sponsors.  Any costs of operation and maintenance will be shared by the sponsors in accordance with the project Interlocal Agreement.  Public access to project lands will be considered on a case-by-case basis as each project is developed.  The district does have eminent domain authority for projects, although it is rarely used.  Decisions to proceed with each phase of project development, or to terminate a project, are made by sponsoring bodies in accordance with the project Interlocal Agreement. 
If another entity will be acting as Lead Agency for the project, the district  may elect to serve as one of the project sponsors with responsibilities as specified in the project Interlocal Agreement.  In this capacity, the district  may assist the Lead Agency by providing engineering services, grant application and management support or other technical assistance.
The district’s Water Conservation Dams Program provides assistance for planning, design, and construction of dams designed to provide “active” water storage for some beneficial use, such as irrigation.  These dams generally have a cost exceeding $15,000, are designed to control runoff from drainage areas greater than 640 acres, can involve single or multiple landowners or agencies, and are not eligible for funding under the district’s Land Treatment Program.  Benefits that can be designed into these projects include flood control, groundwater recharge, irrigation water storage and use, erosion control, recreation and wildlife habitat.  The use of the project and project lands is granted to the project sponsors in accordance with the project Interlocal Agreement and as determined according to each sponsor’s share of project cost.
Project Engineering
Unless otherwise specified in the project Interlocal Agreement, the planning, design, and construction inspection for Water Conservation Dams will be provided by either district or NRCS.
Land Acquisition
Two options are available for obtaining land to construct, operate and maintain water conservation dams. Easements or title may be donated to the project, contributing to the donor’s financial share of project costs, or the district may purchase easements or title, contributing to the sponsors’ financial share of project cost.
Assignment of Benefits
Benefits derived from water conservation dams will be assigned to the district and sponsors in proportion to their respective financial responsibility.  Benefits that can be assigned in this manner are water use for irrigation, private hunting and fishing and improvement of aesthetics for residential sites.  General public benefits to be considered are reduction of flood damages, sediment storage and erosion control, ground water recharge, public recreation and wildlife habitat.  The district will determine the estimated economic value of these benefits as part of project feasibility determinations.
Project Maintenance
Responsibility for project maintenance will be determined on a case-by-case basis.  In general, the party with the majority of benefits will be responsible for maintenance.  Maintenance costs will be estimated as part of project cost and will be used in the determination of financial share.
Project Feasibility
Technical, financial and environmental feasibility must be shown before a water conservation dam is constructed under this program.  Technical feasibility includes site suitability, conformance with Nebraska Department of Natural Resources dam safety requirements, analysis of watershed yield and reservoir operation to determine adequacy of water supply for the intended purposes.  Financial feasibility includes comparison of benefits and costs and determination of potential funding sources.
Project Financing
Project financing is determined on a case-by-case basis, and depends upon availability of grants and other sources of funding.  After project costs are estimated, and other sources of funding determined, each sponsor’s share of remaining cost is determined on the basis of project benefits received by each sponsor.
If a project sponsor will receive revenue from the sale of water, fishing or hunting privileges, cabin or camping sites use, or other such activity, then those revenues must be considered in calculating that sponsor’s financial share of project cost.  In such cases, that sponsor’s share of project cost will be increased by the amount (in current dollars) of such revenues.  The terms and conditions of such revenue producing benefits must be agreed to by all sponsors and defined in the project Interlocal Agreement.
If grants or other types of funds are obtained for the project from federal, state or local agencies, then those grants or other funds will be applied to reduce the sponsors’ shares of project cost.
Public Access
Public access will be required as part of each district project, unless private funding is sufficient to offset the public investment.  Conditional public access will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

Community Hazard Mitigation Planning

Community Hazard Mitigation Planning
Community Hazard Mitigation Planning
Hazard Mitigation Plans (HMP) are a requirement of the Disaster Mitigation Act of 2000, administered by FEMA, and once a community, county, or district is part of an approved plan they become eligible for up to a 75% cost-share for a wide variety of projects listed in the plan.  Hazard Mitigation Plans are required to be updated on a five-year cycle.
A Hazard Mitigation Plan is a publicly-guided document that identifies vulnerability to natural and manmade hazards such as flood, drought, earthquake, wildfire, winter storm, tornado/high wind storm, dam failure, chemical transportation and fixed sites, agricultural diseases, etc.  The plan sets goals, establishes mitigation alternatives, and prioritizes projects which may reduce or eliminate potential damages to property, and provides protection when future disasters occur.
Planning efforts are guided by a Planning Team consisting of representatives from the communities, Upper Big Blue NRD, Nebraska Department of Natural Resources (NDNR), and the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency (NEMA).
Public input will be gathered throughout the duration of the planning process through public meetings, surveys, and a project website.  All communities, public school districts, and other taxing authorities within the county are eligible to participate.
The district can assist communities with hazard mitigation planning and implementation of the program.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency administers a grants program to assist with hazard mitigation planning and implementation of projects designed to reduce damage.  In order for a project to be grant eligible, the project must be identified in the community’s Hazard Mitigation Plan.