Year in Review
December 22, 2023

In 2023, the Lewis and Clark Natural Resources District (LCNRD) board of directors implemented conservation practices, projects, and services in Northeast Nebraska to benefit local natural resources.  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; Carly Christensen, Hartington; Dan Kollars, Hartington; Matt Weinandt, Wynot; Curtis Armstrong, Ponca; and currently vacant, Subdistrict 5 seat.  

LCNRD provides cost share to district landowners and operators through several local, state, and federal programs to financially assist in implementing conservation practices.  Funds in 2023 were provided 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) to address nitrates in the groundwater and the Bow Creek Watershed Project (BCWP) to address E. coli in surface water. Technical assistance for many of the 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).

New projects for LCNRD include one with NRCS to develop a Preliminary Investigative Findings Report (PIFR) to address flooding and/or erosion/sedimentation in the South Creek Watershed under the Watershed and Flood Prevention Operations (WFPO) program. The purpose of the PIFR is to provide reasonable assurance that a feasible watershed project can be developed. The South Creek Watershed area encompasses approximately 77,000 acres and includes the communities of Allen, Martinsburg, and Ponca. The land is primarily agricultural and consists of grass/pasture and row crops. The LCNRD board will consider the PIFR’s recommendation and develop a site-specific plan with NRCS that could be engineered and implemented with interested participants to address flood risk, erosion, and/or sedimentation.

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 and 2023, resulting in average water levels lower than in the fall of 2023 than previous falls. Groundwater conservation is essential to the overall health of district aquifers. 

Groundwater quality and quantity trends are monitored in 243 irrigation, domestic, and/or stock wells and 70 dedicated observation wells across the district. Many areas of the district are experiencing increased nitrate levels, including the BGMA near Creighton, which was designated in 2004 to address high nitrate levels in groundwater.

LCNRD works with local producers to reduce nitrate contamination in the BGMA and across the district through educational programs and the implementation of best management practices (BMPs) to address contamination where nitrate concentrations are nearing or exceeding the federal Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) of 10 parts per million (ppm).

The Bow Creek Watershed Project was initiated in 2019 to address surface 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.

Educational events for the BGMA and Bow Creek Watershed Project promote BMPs for conservation farming practices, including cover crop planting and termination methods, no-till systems, irrigation management, and nutrient management.

Natural resources education is a priority of the directors and staff.  In 2023, LCNRD presented “Awesome Aquifers” at the 29th annual water festival, “Aquafest,”  for area 5th graders and volunteered at the 34th annual “Wonderful World of Water.” LCNRD provided educational activities to local classrooms, including for area high schoolers, “We All Live in Watershed” and “Soil Structure and Soil Conservation,” and read The Lorax to area kindergarten classes where they were shown the importance of windbreaks and shelterbelts and were given a Black Hills Spruce seedling as part of the Arbor Day 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 supports a youth poster contest. This year’s local winners are Kiersten Hans from Wynot Public School, in the 7th-9th grade division, and Lucy Steffen from Holy Trinity Elementary School, in the 4th-6th grade division. The theme for the 2023 NACD Poster Contest was “One Water.

LCNRD is proud to implement many programs to benefit and protect the lives, property, and future of Northeast Nebraska. For more information, contact the LCNRD at 402-254-6758 or stop in the office at 608 N. Robinson Ave, Hartington, NE 68739.                                                           

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