Nebraska Water Center, UNL Extension Convene Nitrate Workshops

People siting together at table

Throughout 2020’s countless twists and turns, working to address nitrate challenges in Nebraska proved to be a constant.

Well before the pandemic, NWC and partners in Nebraska Extension began convening leaders from across the state to explore new
ways to approach an old water challenge. When nitrate from excess fertilizer applications enters groundwater, they can contaminate
municipal and domestic water supplies and lead to a range of human health hazards.

In January 2020, 40-plus participants from diverse backgrounds gathered for the initial nitrate strategy meeting. The group zeroed
in on four major categories: building trust and promoting pride and awareness in Nebraska’s water resources; education; policy; and
development of alternative markets for low-nitrogen cropping systems.

Facilitated by NWC’s Research and Extension Communications Specialist Crystal Powers and Nebraska Extension’s Associate
Extension Educator Katie Pekarek, the meeting sparked the development of short-term, cross-sector priorities to improve nitratewater quality issues. Furthermore, they identified working groups to achieve these priorities and committed to the goal of ensuring
that all Nebraskans have access to safe drinking water.

“The Nitrate Working Group has provided valuable input to better understand the concerns and level of knowledge of various
stakeholders. One of the significant benefits has been our understanding of the importance of communicating with non-traditional
stakeholders as they have an important role in implementing Best Management Practices to protect our groundwater,” said Hastings
Utilities Environmental Director Marty Stange.

Following a pandemic-induced hiatus, the nitrate meetings rebooted in September with working group meetings focused on policy,
producer education and awareness. These groups are working on specific multi-sector collaborative proposals. These proposals will
be brought back to the leadership of the organizations involved by summer 2021, with a goal of beginning implementation in the fall.

Overall, more than 65 individuals have participated in the nitrate meetings, including representatives from NWC, DWFI, Natural
Resources Districts, the Nebraska Association of Resources Districts, Nebraska Farm Bureau, Nebraska Corn Board, Nebraska AgriBusiness Association, Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, U.S. Geological Survey, National Resources Conservation Service,
UNL Administration, Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy, University of Nebraska Foundation, Shell Creek Watershed
Group, GC Resolve, Nature Conservancy of Nebraska, Nebraska Sierra Club, Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services,
Groundwater Foundation, and growers.

Images: 
Two people working together