The Lewis & Clark NRD formulated a five-year action plan and will be applying for funding from the EPA this September with the goal of improving water quality within the District.
HARTINGTON — The Lewis & Clark NRD formulated a ve-year action plan and will be applying for funding from the EPA this September with the goal of improving water quality within the District.
A project that began in 2017, the goal was to analyze the nearly one million acres within the District to nd areas with high pollutants in the water, discover the source of these issues, and create an action plan to move forward.
The Lewis & Clark NRD worked with FYRA Engineering to construct this analysis, along with the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality with the intent to develop a plan to improve the water quality and natural resources for area residents.
Last Tuesday, representatives from FYRA, NDEQ, and the L&C NRD held an Open House here to unveil the analysis findings and talk about next steps.
The studies produced water quality index scores revealing that E. Coli, nitrogen and phosphorus/sediment are the three primary pollutants of the water basin.
It also showed there are 11 impaired stream segments and ve impaired lakes in the planning area. A waterway is given an ‘impaired’ status if elevated levels of pollutants in the water are discovered.
This is a long term project aimed at heightening the water quality across the District through ve-year action plans of priority areas.
”We want a plan that puts together a path for moving forward,” said FYRA Engineer Sara Mechtenberg. “It will be a long term plan to get through the entire basin, but one of the steps we need to take is to look at water quality pollutants, specifically from non-point sources that are getting introduced into our waterbodies, and how do we bring those levels down.”
Three creeks will get the most immediate attention, Mechtenberg said.
“The main stems of the Bazile [Creek], the Bow [Creek], and the Aowa [Creek] were all tested, and they all tested to show they have very high E. Coli counts,” said Mechtenberg. “High enough to be above the state standard to be listed as impaired water bodies.”
It was determined the Bow Creek watersheds will be the rst priority area addressed with the rst round of funding which will be applied for in September.
There will also be special priority areas to the west, including one on the Santee Reservation and the other down near Plainview and Antelope County.
The project expects to start moving forward this year. Project details are supposed to be finalized this summer, including an estimated cost that will be used when applying for grants in September.
Every September, a federal budget is approved in Washington D.C., and this is where funds will come from to supply grants being applied for through NDEQ to the EPA.
“The NDEQ is funded through the EPA,” said NDEQ Non-Point Source Pollution Coordinator Carla McCullough. “Every year we get a grant from them of approximately $2.5 million, but it has been going down every presidential budget. However, half of that goes out in the form of grants. In order to qualify for grants, you have to put together a plan that shows you will improve water quality where you have issues.”
While this project will be primarily funded through grants, there is a 40 percent non-federal match requirement. This means that when applying for a grant, that money will cover 60 percent of costs. McCullough said the other 40 percent typically comes from local government agencies, like the NRD as well as other donors.
The project will start by addressing the high levels of E. coli in the Bow Creek watershed. This is a voluntary program with the goal of incentivizing landowners to join in the effort of restoring water quality through cost-share measures.
While the priority area covers a significant part of northern Cedar County, the analysis that has been done has helped isolate areas of concern that can be addressed to benefit downstream areas.
“When you look at those indexes and you overlay them with where the impairments are and what type of impairments we have, we have two E. Coli impairments on two downstream reaches in the Bow Creek water shed,” said FYRA Engineer Charles Ikenberry. “That is where we decided to designate the priority area at least for this rst ve-year phase of planning and funding.”
“If you look at Lower West Bow Creek, Middle Bow Creek, and the outlet of East Bow Creek,” continued Ikenberry, “those three watersheds combined are contributing 75 percent of the bacteria load to the outlet of Bow Creek.”
Maps developed by FYRA helped explain the factors that contribute to the pollutant. Some of these factors include what the land is used for, soil characteristics, slopes of hills, livestock count, precipitation septic systems, and more.
These factors all add up to help create a water quality index score. The higher the number, the higher the amount for pollutants. One score within the Bow Creek priority area earned a score of 58, which was second highest for the District behind a score of 63 in Dixon County north of Allen.
The Bow Creek priority area includes Cedar County towns like Bow Valley, Fordyce, and Wynot. Hartington is right on the border.
Unlike source point pollution, which can be easily identified and typically comes with various regulations for that pollution, non-point can be a bit different.
“Non-point source pollution is generated from landscapes and it is transported via surface water through rainwater,” said Mechtenberg. “Any pollutants that are picked up along the landscape and transported to a waterbody is considered a non-point source.”
For Bow Creek, a lot of this involves run off from precipitation that flows right into the stream, bringing pollutants straight into the water source. Mechtenberg says that the Lewis & Clark NRD already has been working to address this issue, and the long-term project aims to assist.
“Currently, the NRD already has some cautionary practices in place,” said Mechtenberg. “There is already equipment, they did a watershed structure program, so there have been efforts in your district but we just want to continue that and see if we can bring any additional funding and a more concise path for the basin as a whole.”
A big part of this analysis is addressing the many sources of these non-source point pollutants. The main contributor is the manure, which becomes a non-source point pollutant once it is moved for fertilizer or taken from the cattle’s grazing area.
“You can also look at the contributions by source, and what you see here is cropland through primary runoff from areas where manure applications have the potential to contribute quite a bit of E. coli load,” said Ikenberry.
In the Ag community, manure is frequently used as fertilizer for crops, but the effects on water quality come from a few main reasons.
“So those are the three big ones in this watershed; croplands with manure application, grazing specifically with direct access to streams, and feedlots,” said Ikenberry.
Feed lots over a certain size already face EPA regulations regarding pollutants and contaminants, and there are 817 Livestock Waste ControFacilitieses in the District, with 383 residing in Cedar County. A point was brought up though for those farms that are not quite big enough to register with the EPA and aren’t required to follow those regulations. The goal is through incentivizing farmers through cost-share with these grants, some of these pollutant problems can be remedied.
“The amount of pasture area in the riparian zone is an indicator for cattle to directly access the stream," said Ikenberry. “While they are doing that on those hot summer days, they can introduce manure and bacteria directly into the stream, and that has a very high delivery rate downstream to our streams of concern.”
The riparian zone is the area directly off of a waterway and typically includes the floodplain of that water source.
While the priority area of Bow Creek is the target zone for the first five years, it was made clear this is a long-term plan aiming at improving the water quality throughout the basin. Grants will be continually available to be applied for as long
as the project plan is updated every ve years to show any results from the last phase of funding, and any new goals for the next round of funding.
Tuesday’s Open House in Hartington was the second Open House where the plan was presented. The first one was held last October.
Tuesday was also the third committee meeting which preceded the Open House.
The Committee meeting involves local farmers, residents, and stakeholders to gather their input of the best ways to move forward, in terms of what area to target, what incentive programs are thought to work best in this area, and more.
There will be another Committee meeting as well as a third Open House in May.