Protecting and Restoring Nebraska's Wetlands

Protecting and Restoring Nebraska's Wetlands

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

NRD Receives Award from Regional Wetlands Organization

Nebraska's wetlands are a valuable resource when it comes to protecting groundwater quality and quantity. They also provide habitat for millions of birds and other wildlife each year. The Rainwater Basin Joint Venture (RWBJV) promotes the health of Nebraska's wetlands through a variety of programs and projects, some of which the NRD has partnered with in recent years. That’s why the RWBJV recently recognized the Upper Big Blue NRD with its 2021 Conservation Partner Stewardship Award.

Andy Bishop, coordinator of the RWBJV, presented the award to the Upper Big Blue NRD at the January board meeting. He commented that he was pleased to recognize the organization for its, "dedication to wetland restoration over the last 10 years.”

Wetlands are at risk due to many factors, the primary one being agricultural and commercial development. As wetlands across the state are lost, there has been a decrease in wildlife diversity and abundance in this once habitat-rich landscape. Wetlands are an important component to managing water quality and quantity concerns as they absorb water and prevent flooding, recharge groundwater resources, and provide water filtration as surface water moves through the ground to the aquifer below. They also provide nutrient cycling and carbon sequestration necessary for a thriving ecosystem.

As the majority of wetland acres in Nebraska have been drained and developed for other purposes, managing what remains and restoring what has been lost is of utmost importance.

The RWBJV and the NRD have worked together to secure Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) funds that have allowed new wetland easements to be developed. These easements, “allow producers to restore their wetlands and still continue to crop them,” says Bishop. “This has often been a bottleneck in the past, where landowners were precluded from enrolling in these different programs. This flexibility, afforded to us through the RCPP funds sponsored by Upper Big Blue, has been able to offer landowners new opportunities.”

Through the Divots in the Pivots program, the RWBJV and the Upper Big Blue NRD work with landowners by utilizing a full field/system approach to restore habitat in Nebraska’s Rainwater Basin while continuing economic sustainability to agriculture.  Best management practices ensure efficient irrigation on productive cropland while restoring and promoting wetlands.

Divots in the Pivots provides a variety of cost-share assistance to landowners with wetlands in the Rainwater Basin to conserve that wetland while improving profitability of the farming operation. Variable rate irrigation, fencing, livestock watering and conservation easements are few of the many options available. 

A calf grazes in a wetland in central Nebraska.

In 2019, the NRD and RWBJV partnered to offer district cattle producers access to a portable corral system that makes it easier for them to graze district wetlands. This benefits the producers, who save time and money by using the equipment that was purchased by the Joint Venture and is maintained by the NRD. It also benefits the wetlands, as appropriately managed livestock grazing is a great way to remove invasive species and improve the overall health of wetlands. Grazing makes these publicly and privately owned wetland sites an economic asset in local communities. 

This multifaceted approach to wetland restoration and management in the area is essential, says Bishop. “We can’t solve it with one tool. We’ve got to have the whole toolbox. That’s why partners like the Upper Big Blue NRD make all the difference.”

Bishop is excited for the partnership with the NRD to continue, as he is looking forward to wetland restoration projects on the horizon that will improve public access for recreation and education to district wetlands, as well as additional grazing opportunities for area cattle producers.

District landowners and cattle producers: get in touch with the NRD or the Rainwater Basin Joint Venture to see how you can benefit from wetland restoration projects and funds.

Upper Big Blue NRD Board Member Roger Houdersheldt (left) accepts the 2021 Conservation Partner Stewardship Award from the Rainwater Basin Joint Venture Coordinator Andy Bishop (right).

*Wetland photographs provided by the Rainwater Basin Joint Venture and Natural Resource Conservation Service.