States Look to Nebraska for Water Management Solutions

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Nebraska’s Groundwater Supply Remains Stable While Other States Struggle with Shortages

While California and other states struggle with water shortages, Nebraska’s groundwater supply has remained stable – and that’s prompting interest from out-of-state government officials and others tasked with water management.

As the nation’s largest irrigator, Nebraska regulates its groundwater more heavily than any other state, according to Kris Polly, a special adviser to the Washington-based National Water Resources Association. In an interview with the Associated Press, Polly said the system works well, because it relies on local control, a system that could serve as an example for states that tap their groundwater.

“If there were no controls in place in Nebraska, there would be rapid declines in the Ogallala Aquifer,” Polly said. “There have been some, but due to the regulations, the water level is under control and in some places advancing.”

At the heart of the state’s groundwater management system are 23 Natural Resources Districts, which are managed by locally elected board members. Unlike most county-wide districts, Nebraska’s NRDs are based on river basin boundaries rather than county lines, enabling them to approach natural resources management on a watershed basis. Each district sets its own priorities and develops its own programs to best serve local needs. 

In response to NRD regulations, growers are installing flow meters to better manage their water resources. With a flow meter, they can keep track of their water allocation, check irrigation efficiency, determine pumping plant efficiency and detect any well or pump problems before they become severe.

“Flow meters are the only broadly accepted way to measure the use of the resource we are trying to conserve,” said Jasper Fanning, general manager of the Upper Republican NRD. “If you can’t measure it, you can’t regulate the use. The only way a producer can optimize their water application is if they know exactly how much they are applying every time they push start.”

Imperial, Nebraska grower Dick Harberg understands the importance of water conservation and relies on Growsmart™ by Lindsay magnetic flow meters to take the guesswork out of water usage.

“Every drop of water in the United States is very valuable, and we need to be precise with what we are doing with it,” said Harberg. “We need a fair amount to raise our crops, but we don’t need to use extra. I honestly think that farmers are one of the best stewards of the ground and that 99 percent of all farmers are very interested in being conservative. If you don’t have a flow meter, you honesty don’t have a way to know how much water you’re using.”

The Growsmart IM3000 magnetic flow meter measures the voltage pulse of flowing water. It does not have any moving parts, such as propellers or ball bearings. Because it’s highly accurate without straightening veins and large up and down space requirements, it can fit into areas other meters cannot. And without bearings to grease, re-calibration requirements or additional hardware costs, it provides a total cost advantage.

With an optional data cable, the Growsmart IM3000 can be connected to FieldNET enabled panels, which gives growers real-time readings of flow as well as historical reports – making it a valuable production tool for making decisions regarding daily operations.

Harberg added that he has used traditional flow meters since the 1970s.

“After the other flow meters wear out, we’ll replace them with Growsmart magnetic flow meters – might as well have the best ones you can,” he said. 

For more information on how Nebraska NRDs are setting the bar, read Nebraska's Water Management Catches Eye of Other States by Grant Schulte.