Water Conservation Urgently Needed as Drought Intensifies in Lower Elkhorn NRD

Water Conservation Urgently Needed as Drought Intensifies in Lower Elkhorn NRD


NORFOLK, Nebraska – The impacts of the drought are becoming even more serious for the citizens of northeast Nebraska as the dry conditions continue to escalate.  The attached map shows the comparison across the Lower Elkhorn Natural Resources District (LENRD) over the last few weeks, with most of the district moving from an extreme drought to an exceptional drought (D4) designation.

During the drought of 2012, many private well owners found themselves lowering their pumps to provide water in their homes for their families.  Not only did domestic wells suffer, but there were also irrigation and livestock wells that failed to function properly during the drought.

LENRD general manager, Mike Sousek, said, “Imagine coming home after work to find you have no water in your home.  Or you turn on your pivot to water your crops and there’s no pressure, or your livestock well runs dry.  These are the times we are in, and we must come together, collectively, to protect the resource that we all share.”

An exceptional drought is a critical situation, and water conservation is at utmost importance.  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, installing water-saving appliances, and managing our sprinklers more efficiently.”  Cities and towns across the district have water conservation measures in place, encouraging residents to limit their water use on their scheduled days.

Farmers are also bound to certain power restrictions limiting their usage during scheduled times throughout the irrigation season.  Economics also play a large role in limiting water usage.  Sousek added, “Even with restrictions in place, we can all work harder, as individuals, to do our part in protecting the resource.  We can’t wait for the cities to tell us when to conserve or wait until our well fails and we can’t pump water for our crops, we need to save water today and prepare for what happens next, if conditions don’t improve.”

To keep groundwater levels stable and protect supplies long-term, the LENRD has allocations in place for any irrigation wells installed after 2017.  Sousek said, “We would like to remind landowners, with newer wells, to plan accordingly with their irrigation scheduling and to be aware of the current 9-acre inch allocations.  All water users need to be cognizant of the amount of water being used and be accountable to our neighbors by assuring them that we’re doing all we can to share the resource with everyone around us, especially during a drought.”

There are also allocations in the Groundwater Quantity Management Subareas across the district.  In those areas, an additional 2-acre inches are available, after September 15th, for producers who are planting a cover crop.  Sousek said, “If someone abuses this allocation, it’s not only hurting the producer, but it’s hurting all groundwater users who share the resource and could affect future management decisions by the board.”

The drought is being closely monitored by the district, with possible drought mitigation actions being considered.   These actions will be determined by the board of directors and the district’s Drought Mitigation Response Team.  Any actions the district puts into place for the 2023 growing season must be decided by Nov. 1st.

Sousek added, “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 for what’s ahead and conserving our groundwater to help resolve present and future water quantity issues, to protect all groundwater users.”

The next LENRD board of directors meeting will be Thursday, September 22 at the LENRD office in Norfolk at 7:30 p.m. and on Facebook Live.