Dr. William (Bill) L. Powers

by Bill Powers

From 'History of the UNL Nebraska Water Center, from 1964 to 2008', School of Natural Resources: Karen E. Stork and Steven W. Ress, p. 39.

Director from 1980-1988

In the early 1980s, the Nebraska Water Center was one of six major divisions of UNL’s Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources (IANR) and the director carried the title of Dean/Director of the Nebraska Water Resources Center.  These were exciting and rewarding times for the Nebraska Water Center and its staff because it was involved in so many of the state’s water-related activities.

The Nebraska Water Center participated in a legislatively mandated State Water Planning and Review Process.  Staff were actively involved in several planning task forces, and assumed leadership of the Task Force on Water Use Efficiency.  I was a member of the Interagency Water Coordinating Committee, which held monthly meetings chaired by then Governor Charles Thone.  I was an advisor to the Nebraska Natural Resources Commission and attended their monthly meetings, and I was a core team leader on the Platte River Forum to Model Stream Flows.

I also chaired IANR’s Sand Hills Task Force that was examining effects of the recent expansion of irrigated corn into the Nebraska Sand Hills. This committee examined threats of contamination from agricultural chemicals that moved easily through the sandy soils toward groundwater.  Water quality research programs to alleviate the threat were recommended.  During the early 1980s, the Nebraska Water Center had a staff of 12 faculty, technicians and secretaries.

Nationally, I served as executive secretary of the Universities Council on Water Resources (UCOWR) and worked closely with UCOWR’s board of directors to plan and conduct the annual meeting, which was attended by delegates from about 50 universities across the U.S.

Along with the rewarding times, there was also disappointment.  The Water Resources Research Act of 1964 was not renewed in 1981 and federal support for Nebraska Water Center research activities all but disappeared. 

In 1982, the federal Office of Water Research and Technology (OWRT) was created and funding for the center through the federal allotment and matching grant programs was again available.  A few years after OWRT was created, it was disbanded and administration of the federal allotment and matching grant programs went to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).  For several years, funding for this program was not included in the annual USGS budget request.

It was only through concentrated lobbying by the National Association of Water Institute Directors (NAWID) that federal funding for water institutes was restored in the USGS budget.  But federal funding for the water institutes began declining by the mid-1980s.  Fortunately, IANR allotted an additional $40,000 of state funds to the Nebraska Water Center.

On July 1, 1984, the Nebraska Water Center merged into IANR’s Conservation and Survey Division (CSD). Faculty, technicians and some secretarial positions in the center were absorbed by CSD, and one faculty position moved to the Department of Agricultural Meteorology.

The Nebraska Water Center then ceased to be a “stand alone” IANR unit and became primarily a CSD unit, administering funds of some federal and state water research projects.  I served as Assistant Director for Water Research in IANR’s Agricultural Research Division and Coordinator of Water Programs in the Cooperative Extension Service.  I also chaired IANR’s Water Policy Committee and the university’s Water Policy Forum. The forum was a group of UNL and UNO water scientists that met annually to coordinate university water research programs. 

From 1985 to 1987 the Nebraska Water Center was a coordination point for national water interests.  I still served as UCOWR executive secretary and also NAWID chair.

In spring 1988, I resigned as director and moved to UNL’s Department of Agronomy as a professor of soil physics.  I retired from UNL in 2005.