Lower Elkhorn NRD - Drought Conditions Persist, Make Water Conservation a Priority

Lower Elkhorn NRD - Drought Conditions Persist, Make Water Conservation a Priority


NORFOLK, Nebraska – It wasn’t that long ago when drought conditions plagued this area and caused water conflicts to arise.  As the current drought intensifies, we could find ourselves back in some of those same situations.  The total precipitation for the Norfolk area shows that the last few months have been the driest on record since 1910.

What can we do in times like this?  Mike Sousek, general manager for the Lower Elkhorn Natural Resources District (LENRD), said, “It comes down to conserving the groundwater that we all share.  It’s about being responsible with our resources and being accountable to our neighbors by assuring them that we’re doing all that we can to share the resource with everyone around us.”

Water use in Nebraska breaks down to approximately 81% groundwater irrigation, 13% surface water irrigation, and 4% domestic uses. The remaining 2% comprises other uses such as livestock and industrial.

The average person uses 80-100 gallons of water each day.  Sousek said, “We can all use at least 20 percent less water by being more mindful of our actions, checking for leaks, and installing water-efficient appliances.”  Many of the cities and towns across the district have water-saving measures in place, encouraging residents to limit their water use on their scheduled days.  “It’s important to adopt the mindset that the current dry cycle could be part of a multi-year weather pattern.  There’s value in preparing ourselves and conserving our groundwater to help resolve present and future water quantity issues,” said Sousek.

If you own a private well, one of the most important things you can do is to be proactive in the maintenance of your well.  Sousek continued, “If you’ve had issues with your well in the past, or you’re concerned about the well’s performance, it could become problematic during dry conditions.  It’s also a good idea to know the location of your well (using GPS coordinates), the total depth, the static water level, and the age of your well.”  This information will help well owners answer important questions when a well is not functioning properly.  All wells should be registered with the State of Nebraska at:

What does a drought mean for farmers and ranchers?  Nebraska Climatologist, Al Dutcher, said, “La Nina conditions are persistent across the Equatorial Pacific and the Climate Prediction Center has placed the odds of this event continuing through this upcoming summer at 59% and a 50-55% chance that these conditions will persist through this fall.”

Dutcher added, “I continue to be optimistic that Nebraska will see some relief from drought conditions over the next 30 days. However, due to very dry topsoil and subsoil, from the lack of precipitation over the past 6 months, timely rainfall events will be required through late August to escape significant drought damage for dryland farmers and ranchers.”

There are a variety of ways landowners can protect their assets during a drought.  Sousek reminds the public that the LENRD has several cost-share options available to allow for additional management of the resource.  He explained, “Cost-share is available for soil moisture sensors to help with irrigation scheduling as well as funding opportunities for variable rate irrigation and sprinkler packages to conserve more water.  When using Best Management Practices (BMPs), producers can receive economic benefit by conserving energy and maximizing yield potential by minimizing risk of nutrient leaching.”  Contact your county Natural Resources Conservation Service for further information on how to apply.

To keep groundwater levels stable and protect supplies long-term, the LENRD has allocations in place for irrigators in the management subareas.  Sousek said, “We would like to remind landowners within the quantity subareas, in Madison and Wayne counties, to plan accordingly with their irrigation scheduling and be aware of the current inch per acre allocations.  In times of drought, we must work together to protect all groundwater users.”

Since 2017, any new irrigation wells constructed under an approved Standard Variance also have an allocation for limited water use.  The LENRD will inform each of these well owners, in writing, of the need to be conscientious of their pumping, if the drought continues.