Nebraska possesses some of the greatest water resources in the nation. To preserve the district's water resources, the Upper Elkhorn Natural Resources District has monitored groundwater levels or static water levels since 1975. The static water level is the distance from the surface of the ground to the water level in a well. The UENRD measures the static water level in approximately 380 wells annually to keep track of water quantity across the district. This allows the district to document the groundwater level measurements over time and better understand how long-term groundwater levels change over time. With this data, the NRDs can develop Rules and Regulations to protect the water resources for the future.
The Upper Elkhorn NRD also has an extensive water quality monitoring network throughout the district. The NRD samples approximately 600 irrigation wells annually for nitrate-nitrogen and, 58 dedicated monitoring wells for nitrate-nitrogen and certain pesticides. Samples taken from the irrigation wells are then sent to the laboratory for analysis. The nitrate-nitrogen results are then reported to the cooperators so they can credit the nitrate-nitrogen in the irrigation water back to the crop. Crediting the nitrogen back to the crop will help reduce the potential for groundwater contamination. Monitoring water quality allows the NRD to document any areas with nitrate-nitrogen levels above the federal health standard and work on ways to decrease these levels through best management practices. The NRD has developed Rules and Regulations to address the districts water quality issues to protect the water resources for the future.
Flow meters provide a means to determine the flow rate and flow volume of irrigation systems. Many producers do not have flow meters, so they must rely on original well registration information. Over time, flow rates can change due to many factors including water table fluctuations and normal wear and tear of equipment. As a result, flow rates listed on an original well registration may not be accurate. Thus, it is beneficial to monitor flow rates throughout the irrigation season to ensure that the proper amount of irrigation water is being applied. A portable ultrasonic flow meter is a useful educational and management tool. The data it provides can help producers to increase irrigation application efficiency and reduce groundwater contamination. It also provides up-to-date information about changes in flow rates. This may give indications of whether or not a pump is operating efficiently. The Upper Elkhorn NRD has an ultrasonic flow meter available to assist irrigators in irrigation management. If requested, an Upper Elkhorn NRD staff member can bring out the ultrasonic flow meter to measure the flow of an irrigation well to help cooperators better schedule their water application.
The Upper Elkhorn NRD maintains a Groundwater Management Plan to monitor all aspects of groundwater within the district. The Upper Elkhorn Natural Resources District has designated ground water quality areas throughout the district to preserve, maintain and enhance groundwater quality.
The Upper Elkhorn NRD has begun Groundwater Irrigated Acre Certification. Acre certification is based off of 2010 County Assessor data. Landowners who paid irrigated tax during 2010 will receive a certification letter for each parcel listed as irrigated. Once the landowner receives their letter they will need to compile documentation showing the amount of irrigated acres for that legal. Documentation should either be in the form of a FSA form 578 or county assessor tax records.
Due to the three different designated areas within the Upper Elkhorn NRD, landowners will be instructed in their certification letter as to which years their documentation should include. Landowners with ground water irrigated acres that have been irrigated at least once within the Lower Niobrara River Basin fully appropriated designation during the calendar years of 2003 through October 16, 2007; the Lower Platte River Basin designation between the calendar years of 2004 and December 16, 2008; and, the previously undesignated area of Holt and Northern Antelope Counties between the years of 2008 through October 1, 2012 will be certified at 100% with proper documentation.
Historically groundwater irrigated acres currently enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program, Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, Environmental Quality Incentive Program or other federal, state or local conservation program or irrigated prior to the basin designations must also be certified if there is any possibility of future irrigation. Acres that were historically irrigated in the Lower Niobrara River Basin prior to 2003, Lower Platte River Basin prior to 2004 and previously undesignated area of Holt and Northern Antelope Counties prior to 2008 and have proper documentation may receive 95% certification for the total amount of irrigated acres, should the landowner decide to reactivate a field for irrigation purposes. Any irrigated acres that are not certified prior to the certification deadline will not be allowed to have groundwater applied to them for any purpose.
The Upper Elkhorn NRD does allow the transfer of certified groundwater irrigated acres. There are specific guidelines for the transfer of groundwater irrigated acres regarding the Hydrologic Unit Code (HUC) and Stream Depletion Factor (SDF).
An abandoned well is any well that has served its usefulness and is no longer needed. These wells have been ignored and even forgotten and can become a huge issue. Abandoned wells, when not properly sealed, are a direct link for contamination to reach our groundwater. Thousands of wells have been abandoned over the years. Not only does an abandoned well pose a threat to groundwater but they also pose a safety hazard for humans and animals.
Irrigation wells and some hand dug wells, have a sufficient diameter that a small child or animal could fall into the open hole. With the concerns for our groundwater, many state and local agencies are taking an active role in correctly plugging these wells. The Upper Elkhorn Natural Resources District is no exception and has created a cost share program for the proper plugging of abandoned wells.
The water program provides cost share assistance for the proper plugging of abandoned wells according to Title 178, Chapter 12 of the Department of Health regulations governing water well abandonment standards. The Upper Elkhorn Natural Resources District will pay 75% of approved well-decommissioning costs up to a maximum of $500 for all water wells other than hand dug water wells, which shall be eligible for up to a maximum of $700.
The Upper Elkhorn Natural Resources District can test water from private wells for nitrate-nitrogen content and bacteria. Nitrate sampling is available for $4.00 per sample at the Upper Elkhorn NRD office in O'Neill. The Upper Elkhorn NRD also provides kits available at no charge to send in a sample, which can be tested for various other materials.
Bacteria sampling is available for $12.00 per sample. This test takes 24 hours to complete and can detect coliform to e-Coli. Bacteria samples must be collected in approved containers from the Upper Elkhorn NRD office and delivered within 4 hours of collecting the sample. Bacteria samples will only be taken Monday through Thursday at the Upper Elkhorn NRD office.