Rainwater Basin Joint Venture Receives Grants from Nebraska Environmental Trust

Rainwater Basin Joint Venture Receives Grants from Nebraska Environmental Trust


GRAND ISLAND, Nebraska -- The Rainwater Basin Joint Venture (RWBJV), an affiliated fund of Nebraska Community Foundation, received funding for three grants totaling $535,563 from Nebraska Environmental Trust (NET) in 2020. Together, the grants benefit farmers, ranchers, wildlife, wetlands and grasslands, as well as the Ogallala Aquifer.

The Western Basin Restorations: Improving Waterfowl Habitat, Recharging the Aquifer, and Improving Water Quality grant received second-year funding in the amount of $162,750, for a multi-agency effort to restore 1,565 acres of playa wetlands at five Waterfowl Production Areas (Cottonwood, Funk, Johnson, Linder, and Victor Lakes). Along with leveraged funding, the grant will provide habitat for migratory birds and sustainable water for irrigation for farmers, improve drinking water for area residents, and contribute to in-stream flow targets for the Platte River System.

Another grant that will provide benefits to farmers is Happy Cows; Happy Wetlands, designed to integrate wetlands into farm operations while maximizing habitat for birds. It received second-year funding of $39,480 to provide financial assistance to continue the RWBJV Working Lands Initiative.  Grant and partner funds will be leveraged with landowner contributions to install grazing infrastructure, such as fencing and livestock watering systems, so that cattle producers throughout the Rainwater Basin can incorporate wetlands into agricultural operations. As part of this grant, two additional portable tub/chute/alley systems were purchased. These systems have been delivered and are available to producers through Little Blue, Tri-Basin and Upper Big Blue NRDs. These units provide producers a tool to safely move animals between grass pastures and wetlands and should increase the ability to achieve desired stocking rates.

The RWBJV received first-year funding for Partnering for Wetlands - Helping address flooding, water quality, water quantity, and habitat in the Rainwater Basin Landscape.

The grant allows Rainwater Basin Joint Venture partners to find win-win opportunities that integrate Rainwater Basin Wetlands into farm operations and maximize habitat on publicly owned wetlands. On private lands, this project will implement programs to integrate restored wetlands into local operations for haying/grazing. Grazing is also beneficial for millions of migratory birds and resident species by promoting desired habitat conditions. Public lands make up less than 1% of the landscape; however, they can contribute to over 50% of the available habitat for migratory birds, if intensively managed.

To facilitate desired habitat conditions, on-site restoration and active management to prevent and control invasive species will be implemented. To increase flooded acres, the construction of supplemental water infrastructure (e.g., groundwater wells, pipelines) and watershed restoration actions will be undertaken.  Research at University of Nebraska – Lincoln found, beyond providing habitat for wetland dependent birds, public lands in the Rainwater Basin are some of the most used public lands in the state, enjoyed by hunters and other outdoor recreation enthusiasts. Rainwater Basin wetlands are also important to a suite of at-risk, threatened, and endangered species. Whooping Cranes, Buff-breasted Sandpipers, King Rails, and nearly 20 other priority species identified in Nebraska’s Natural Legacy Plan are found here. The Rainwater Basin wetlands and associated uplands do not just provide habitat and recreational opportunities. These wetlands benefit all Nebraskans through the ecosystem services provided by playa wetlands - groundwater recharge, nutrient cycling, carbon sequestration, and flood storage - as documented by researchers from University of Nebraska. Actions funded through this grant will help ensure that there continues to be reliable groundwater for both agriculture and municipal uses.

The 2020 grant recipients were announced at the NET Board meeting on June 11, 2020. One hundred nineteen projects received a total of over $20 million in funding; 74 were new applications and 45 were carry-over projects.

The Nebraska Legislature created the Nebraska Environmental Trust in 1992. Using revenue from the Nebraska Lottery, the Trust has provided over $320 million in grants to over 2,300 projects across the state. The Nebraska Environmental Trust works to conserve, enhance and restore Nebraska’s natural resources for future generations.