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Nebraska watershed adopts new groundwater plan

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — An eastern Nebraska watershed has adopted new groundwater protections.

The Papio-Missouri River Natural Resources District board has adopted a new groundwater plan that limits when farmers can use nonorganic fertilizers and how close certain wells can be to each other, the Omaha World-Herald reported .

Officials hope the time restrictions will maximize the uptake of fertilizer during plant growth and minimize fertilizer’s penetration into the soil during fall rains.

The board exempted organic fertilizers, such as manure and sludge from sewage treatment plants, at the request of some livestock producers.

Producers were worried their manure lagoons would reach capacity before manure could be spread on fields, said Paul Woodward, the district’s groundwater management engineer. The plan will work if farmers follow state regulations when applying manure, he said.

“As long as they stay within the guidelines … we feel it is being done correctly,” Woodward said.

The plan also requires that wells that pump more than 50 gallons per minute to receive a permit from the department before construction. Such wells must also be at least 600 feet away from other registered wells.

The new plan will cover all of Douglas, Sarpy, Dakota and Washington Counties and parts of Burt and Thurston Counties.

The department must balance the needs of farmers and the environment, said Jane Griffin, executive director of the Lincoln-based Groundwater Foundation.

“It’s not an easy process,” she said. “Are we making a step forward in protecting our groundwater? Definitely that is the direction we are going. … It doesn’t mean we are eliminating all the risks, but we are making progress.”

Officials hope the rule changes will protect water quality for about 770,000 people. Fertilizers can potentially contaminate groundwater and surface water with nitrates, phosphorous and other substances.

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