Nebraska is the first state in the nation to have a Groundwater Management Plan approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
The plan covers 756 square miles around Bazile Creek in Antelope, Knox, and Pierce counties.
Marty Link, Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality (NDEQ) Water Quality Division administrator, says this recognition is a big deal.
“We’re trying to draw a lot of attention to it, because when we go to national meetings, everybody talks about watershed-this and lake-that, but we keep on saying, ‘Groundwater! Groundwater! Groundwater!’” Link says. “We think that groundwater is awesome and we want Nebraska to be known not only as the good life or a great place to live, but as the groundwater state.”
Link says the goal is to reduce nitrates in the groundwater by better managing fertilizer and irrigation use.
“The Lewis and Clark, Lower Elkhorn, Upper Elkhorn, and Lower Niobrara natural resources districts will be working with their producers and try to encourage them, one way or another, to adopt some best management practices that are going to make a big difference on reducing nitrate to the groundwater,” Link explains.
Link says, in some cases, farmers are over-fertilizing or irrigating too much, so cutting back will save them money as well.
The biggest benefit, according to Link, is healthy drinking water.
“Little ones, less than six months old, don’t have the right bacteria in their stomachs to deal with the nitrates,” she says. “It causes them not to be able to utilize oxygen as well in their blood and so-called Blue Baby Syndrome can be a result.”
The Bazile Groundwater Management Plan is now eligible for funding from the EPA through the Clean Water Act.
Link says she hopes others who bring their groundwater management plan to the EPA have an easier time gaining approval.
“Because (EPA officials) just didn’t realize that groundwater goes slower,” Link says. “And here in Nebraska, that’s 85 percent of our drinking water source. That’s really kind of a big deal for Nebraska. It’s much more important for human health than the surface water quality.”