Dear Fellow Nebraskans:
We are blessed to live in a state with abundant water resources. However, there are times when the state experiences flooding or drought conditions. When our water resources are stressed, Nebraskans have always looked for common sense solutions. In times of drought, we look for ways to conserve our water resources and when flooding occurs neighbors come together and help each other.
July 16th marked 10 years since LB962 - the Nebraska Ground Water Management and Protection Act, became law. The last decade has seen significant progress in managing our surface water and groundwater resources through an integrated management planning process. This planning process brought together local natural resources districts and the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources to work in partnership with stakeholders to develop integrated management plans. This process works to develop practical solutions to difficult water challenges.
The Nebraska Department of Natural Resources and local natural resources districts work collaboratively in areas like the Upper Platte River Basin and Republican River Basin to turn what many have thought were insurmountable challenges in 2004 into great success stories in less than a decade. This collaboration illustrates that when Nebraskans work together we can solve our problems.
Legislative Bill 962 also provided provisions for proactively identifying future potential conflicts so that a planning process can be put into place before more difficult water challenges emerge. This process of proactive evaluation has been significantly advanced by the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources and local natural resources districts as demonstrated by their efforts to upgrade groundwater models, data, and hydrologic tools to support future wise water management decisions.
Over the past several years, modifications have been made to LB962 including provisions requiring the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources to forecast water supplies in the Republican River Basin. This forecast provides local natural resources districts a critical piece of information that they need to proactively manage the groundwater resources to address potential interstate compact shortfalls before they happen.
Another important modification has been the inclusion of provisions for a voluntary integrated management planning process. To date, eight natural resources districts have chosen to voluntarily initiate the integrated management planning process. With these eight districts, in addition to the ten natural resources districts with required integrated management plans, over three-fourths of the natural resources districts within Nebraska are now participating in the integrated management planning process.
Our farmers and ranchers continue to do their part in water management through improvements in efficiencies and technologies in how water is used. Farmers continue to make significant strides in implementing new irrigation technologies such as monitoring real-time soil-water moisture and water application.
Most recently, I signed LB1098 into law increasing the membership of the Natural Resources Commission and providing guidance for the governance of a new fund, the Water Sustainability Fund. I appointed eleven new Commission members representing a variety of water interests on May 15, 2014, increasing membership from 16 to 27 members.
The goals of the Water Sustainability Fund are (1) to provide financial assistance to programs, projects, or activities that increase aquifer recharge, reduce aquifer depletion, and increase streamflow, (2) to protect against threats to our drinking water, (3) to provide increased water productivity and enhance water quality, and (4) to assist in continuing to meet our compliance obligations under interstate compacts and agreements.
The Water Sustainability Fund was provided $21 million of state funds on July 1, 2014, and $11 million of state funds will be transferred to the fund each year thereafter.
The foundation of integrated water management plans, sound science, and funding has set Nebraska on a very bright path for ensuring that our water resources will be effectively managed now and into the future.