Nitrogen is an essential fertilizer for growing productive crops. However, when it enters into water it becomes a risk. For decades, Nebraska’s NRDs and the Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy (NDEE) have been monitoring the state’s water quality. With the help of University of Nebraska research, a 756-square mile area of Antelope, Knox and Pierce counties has been identified as having high groundwater nitrate levels. With groundwater supplying much of this area’s drinking water, homeowners and small communities must treat water but often find it cost-prohibitive.
To help solve the problem, six years ago area NRDs and NDEE teamed up with local, state and federal partners to create the BGMA Plan. Partners include the NWC and its Water Sciences Laboratory (WSL) — and University of Nebraska Extension. This work is critical for the health of more than 7,000 Nebraska citizens in the area. A number of the communities have exceeded Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) maximum nitrate levels for drinking water.
BGMA leadership is taking action through jointly funded research, outreach and incentivization of best practices to help lower nitrate levels, improve groundwater quality and mitigate nitrogen loss in the soil.
Last year, a jointly funded extension educator position was established to perform BGMA-specific on-farm research and demonstrations. The extension educator is developing educational programs and field demonstrations.
Through a Nebraska Environmental Trust (NET) grant, the NWC expanded its Know Your Well program into five BGMA high schools. This program teaches students to sample and test community wells. The NET grants provide BGMA-related support of more than $820,000 over the next three years.
Crystal Powers, research and extension communications specialist through the NWC, has been leading NWC engagement within the BGMA. She said the end goal is bigger than Nebraska. “Once we know the best combination of best management practices, the university’s large faculty and extension group, including DWFI with all its international connections, is well-positioned to expand this knowledge throughout the state and other places in the world that are experiencing similar challenges.”
On October 9 and 10, 2019, the NWC hosted its annual conference in Norfolk, Nebraska, with a specific focus on water quality in the BGMA and Northeast Nebraska. More than 40 speakers presented their knowledge of how community engagement, innovative methods and public health can be applied to create a clean water future.