2022 Lewis and Clark Natural Resources District – Year in Review
In 2022, the Lewis and Clark Natural Resources District (LCNRD) board of directors continued implementing conservation practices, projects, and services in Northeast Nebraska. LCNRD activities are led by a board of eleven locally elected directors; Carolyn Heine, St. Helena; Russ Schmidt, St Helena; Jeff Steffen, Crofton; Marcel Kramer, Crofton; Chris Johnson, Bloomfield; Dave Condon, Creighton; Bill Christensen, Crofton; Gary Howey, Hartington; Matt Weinandt, Wynot; Curtis Armstrong, Ponca; and Leroy Hoesing, Newcastle.
LCNRD provided cost share to district landowners and operators through several local, state, and federal programs to financially assist in implementing conservation practices. Contracts in 2022 were funded to protect land and water resources which included: grass seedings, planned grazing systems, irrigation management, brush management, windbreak renovations, well sealing, and tree plantings. Assistance contracts for Best Management Practices (BMP) were approved for the Bazile Groundwater Management Area (BGMA) and the Bow Creek Watershed Project (BCWP). Technical assistance for many programs offered by LCNRD is provided by conservation partners, such as the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Nebraska Forestry (NFS), and Nebraska Game and Parks Commission (NGPC).
To monitor and protect groundwater quantity, groundwater levels are measured bi-annually in 34 key irrigation and domestic/stock wells. The irrigation pumping season was heavier in 2022, resulting in average water levels lower than in the fall of 2021. Dry conditions going into the 2023 crop season could result in further water level declines that could trigger the implementation of conservation mechanisms. At the November 17th Board of Directors meeting, a 180-day stay on high-capacity wells was enacted under the authority of Nebraska Revised Statute 46-707. During the 180-day stay, the board of directors may revise existing rules and regulations and hold a hearing on the proposed revisions to accept public comment. The process is in the early stages of review and development and is still being determined exactly what the changes will look like. Groundwater conservation is important to the overall health of district aquifers.
Groundwater quality and quantity trends are monitored in 237 irrigation, domestic, and/or stock wells and 69 dedicated observation wells across the district. Many areas of the district are experiencing increased nitrate levels, including the Bazile Groundwater Management Area (BGMA), near Creighton, which was designated in 2004 to address high nitrate levels in groundwater. LCNRD continues to work with local producers to reduce nitrogen contamination in the BGMA and across the district through educational programs and the implementation of rules and regulations drafted to address contamination where nitrate-nitrogen concentrations are nearing or exceeding the federal Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) of 10 parts per million (ppm). The Bow Creek Watershed Project (BCWP) was initiated in 2019 to address the water quality impacts on the recreational use of Bow Creek due to E. Coli contamination. The project promotes BMP cost-share programs and education with field days, meetings, and student engagements. These educational events promote BMPs for conservation farming practices, including cover crop planting and termination methods, no-till systems, and nutrient management. BCWP conducts water quality sampling throughout the watershed, monitoring E. Coli levels during spring and summer to track changes in levels.
Natural resources education is a priority of the directors and staff. In 2022, LCNRD presented “Awesome Aquifers” at the 28th annual water festival; Aquafest is an annual program held at Wayne State College aimed at educating 5th graders on issues concerning groundwater in fun and interesting ways. Schools from all over Northeast Nebraska attend this day-long program. During Soil and Water Stewardship Week, bulletins, litanies, and program inserts are provided to area churches and schools for distribution to their congregations and students. Soil and Water Stewardship Week is sponsored by the National Association of Conservation Districts (NACD), which also sponsors a youth poster contest. This year’s local winners are Kiersten Hans from Wynot Public School, in the 4th-6th grade division, and Miley Pinkelman from Bloomfield Community Schools, in the 7th-9th grade division. Kiersten’s poster also won at the state level and moved on to the NACD national contest. LCNRD also provides educational activities and donates seedling trees to schools in the district.
LCNRD implements many programs to benefit and protect the lives, property, and future of Northeast Nebraska