South Loup River Watershed Project

Over 40 people gathered at the Callaway Community Center on Tuesday, May 5th, to discuss efforts to protect the water quality and quantity of the South Loup Watershed.  The stakeholders meeting, led by the Lower Loup Natural Resources District and three other NRDs, was the first of a series of meetings to talk about impairments and options for improvement to the river basin.

Adam Rupe of JEO, one of the consultants hired to coordinate the project, outlined the issues facing the basin.  Among those issues are high levels of e Coli bacteria, high nitrate levels, nutrients and sedimentation problems.  He also told the group that water quantity concerns would be included as part of the plan.  Groundwater level declines in the basin have not made a full recovery following the drought of 2012.

Laura Johnson of the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality outlined the contamination problem in the basin.  She talked about Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLS), the maximum amount of a pollutant that a body of water can receive while still meeting water quality standards.

Participants in the stakeholders group were asked to rate potential management solutions for the South Loup River Basin.  The group identified possible goals and outcomes for the project and discussed other alternatives to address issues impacting the watershed.

The South Loup Watershed Plan Project has been approved for funding by the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality.  Tylr Naprstek, water modeling coordinator for the LLNRD, said the plan will assist with future decision making and will lay out a roadmap of solutions. Future projects may focus on land treatment practices, water augmentation projects and continued educational efforts.

Rather than impose restrictions, the project will be guided by input from local stakeholders, public agencies, landowners, the community, and other interested parties.  A second meeting of the group is planned for July.  

The Lower Loup Natural Resources District, along with the Central Platte, Upper Loup, and Twin Loup NRDs, have initiated a study of the South Loup River Basin to develop a watershed management plan.  The plan, being created in association with the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality (NDEQ) and under the coordination of JEO, a consulting firm in Lincoln, to address and assess surface water and groundwater quality and quantity in the basin.

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The project, funded through the NRDs and the NDEQ Section 319 program, will be broken into several components, including investigation of high levels of E. coli in the river system.  In its 2014 Water Quality Integrated Report, NDEQ listed impairments to recreation due to the amount of bacteria present.  The plan will also identify potential improvements to the water quality monitoring currently being conducted by the districts.  

When complete, the management plan will identify the source of contaminants and identify the best course of action to remediate the issues.  It will also catalog active and identify potential best management practices that could provide the biggest impact on water quality.  In addressing water quantity issues, the plan will examine potential augmentation projects and other practices which would improve water quantity.   

Under federal guidelines, the watershed management plan must include the Environmental Protection Agency's "nine elements of a watershed plan" for achieving improvements to water quality.  One requirement in the development of the plan is the creation of a stakeholders group, which will bring together and identify the people, policies, priorities and specific resources needed to draft a management plan.

Utilizing a stakeholder approach blends science and regulatory responsibility  with social and economic considerations and allows for better plan acceptance since public input has been used to create it.  Successful development and implementation of a watershed plan will depend on the commitment and involvement of community members.  As the plan is developed, the local representatives/stakeholders will be invited to offer their thoughts and opinions, ensuring that discussions of local problems and considerations are included in the final plan.

Members of the stakeholders group include irrigated and dry-land farmers, groundwater users, surface water allocation owners, ranchers, livestock facility owners, and representatives from communities in the basin.  Agencies such as the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Nebraska Department of Natural Resources and local county supervisors may be included in the statekholder group.

For more information on the South Loup River Watershed Project, contact Tylr Naprstek, Water Modeling Coordinator, at the Lower Loup NRD.