Natural Resources Districts (NRDs) and Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Coalition Focuses on Protecting Nebraska Water Users

Natural Resources Districts (NRDs) and Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Coalition Focuses on Protecting Nebraska Water Users


NRDs & DNR Coalition Developing Plans to Protect Existing Water Users and Address Future Shortages

(Lincoln, Neb.) The Lower Platte River Basin Coalition, which includes all seven of Nebraska's local Natural Resources Districts (NRDs) in the Lower Platte Basin, and the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources (DNR) are developing a plan to ensure the protection of existing water users in the basin, and studying methods for meeting additional and future water needs to serve domestic, industrial and agricultural purposes.

Butch Koehlmoos, General Manager Lower Loup NRD, said, "We're pleased to continue a strong proactive and voluntary partnership working for the best water management practices in the nation. Nebraska's successful locally-driven water management is a strong asset to our water users and the Lower Platte River Basin Coalition is another example of Nebraskans coming together to protect water users for domestic, industrial and agricultural purposes."

The Lower Platte River Basin Coalition is enhancing current efforts to further understand and inventory the water supply that begins in Nebraska's water rich sandhills and ends at the confluence of the Missouri River, covering more than 25,000 square miles, or nearly one-third of Nebraska, and providing water for irrigation, industrial purposes and drinking water for more than half of Nebraska's residents.

The Lower Platte River Basin Coalition is a proactive voluntary effort, which includes seven NRDs in the Loup, Elkhorn, and Lower Platte river basins, as well as the DNR. While each NRD manages water resources on a local level, ultimately what occurs in the sandhills of the upper portion of the Lower Platte Basin impacts what occurs near Lincoln and Omaha's water supply in the lower portion of the basin, and likewise, changes in demands in the lower part of the basin can impact the upper portion of the basin. This effort brings together ground and surface water managers in the basin to study impacts and opportunities on a basin-wide level, ensuring local boards are working together with the state to compile resources and provide every opportunity to achieve and optimize water sustainability.

To date, the Coalition's efforts to inventory the supplies and demands in the basin show a significant surplus of water supply exists in the basin on an average annual basis, with large quantities of excess water not being utilized and flowing out of the state. This is also portrayed in the Department's INSIGHT tool; a new method of evaluating supplies and demands in a basin. Unfortunately, much of that surplus currently occurs when demands for the excess water don't exist, but to water managers in the basin, this average excess supply represents a huge opportunity. The challenge before water resource managers is storing and releasing some of these quantities of excess water during times of drought conditions when demands exceed supplies. 

Glenn Johnson, General Manager Lower Platte South NRD, said, "The excess flows highlight the overall positive balance in the basin and the fact that with collaborative basin wide planning, potential opportunities in the basin far out-weight the challenges." 

As the coalition works to better define this balance, they will look for ways to economically manage for conditions that exist the vast majority of the time, while subsequently ensuring plans are in place for the infrequent extreme drought periods when there's a risk of Platte River supplies falling below demands. The Coalition will continue to study and develop a basin plan that will work to utilize projects that will optimize the opportunities by capturing excess flows and finding ways to store and retime the water. 

Mike Sousek, General Manager Lower Elkhorn NRD, said, "This method of planning for the normal conditions, but managing for the infrequent challenges during extreme drought will allow for protection of all existing uses, and in areas allow for the expansion of uses, providing continued economic benefit to the region, and maximizing the overall benefit for the state of Nebraska and all of its residents."