Nebraska’s Watersheds – Discovering Yours & Keeping It Clean

 In Natural Resources, Water

It may surprise you to know that Nebraska has more land bordering on riverfronts than any state in the nation. Our 24,000 miles of rivers and streams, along with our position above the country’s largest aquifer, provide us with blessed resources we must steward for future generations. Though it is plentiful and usable, Nebraska’s water is neither infinite nor immune from pollution. Irrigators, cities and villages, industries and wildlife all compete for this precious resource. Contamination may come from sediment, farming chemicals, urban runoff and industrial sources.

Nebraska’s Natural Resources Districts (NRDs) have local leadership responsibilities for protecting groundwater from overuse and pollution. Each district also has a plan to protect groundwater. State law has given districts a variety of regulatory tools to deal with contamination, shortages or user conflicts. We are unique in our Natural Resources Districts — they were created by people of vision in 1972, and each NRD ignores political and other artificial boundaries.They are, instead, denoted by the watersheds of the state.

A recent article by Maureen Wise in an Earth 911 newsletter focuses on watersheds and ways we can all help our communities, our state, and, inevitably, the planet by keeping our watersheds clean. Following is excerpted from her article:

“Human influence changes the way water cycles work. You’ll have a hard time finding a watershed that isn’t polluted in some way. One way you can help the health of your watershed is by reducing your contribution to stormwater.

“Stormwater is the rain that drains off of hard surfaces like your roof, driveway, and sidewalk. This water is heated by these surfaces in the summer and picks up pollutants such as road salt, oil, shingle flecks, and more. Then the water goes down the storm drain. This water doesn’t go through a water treatment plant, so all the pollutants and litter get channeled to a water body, harming wildlife, and eventually affecting the health of connected watersheds. The sudden addition of warmer water into a water body makes it harder for the water to retain oxygen, reducing available oxygen for aquatic life. You can reduce your stormwater by installing a rain barrel, a rain garden, or simply letting your downspouts drain into a low spot in your yard.”

Along with our NRDs, there are organizations that work to help keep our watersheds clean. Your local NRD representatives will know whom to contact in your area to join a local organized citizen action group working to keep our watersheds clean. Such groups may hold community meetings, conduct environmental education, monitor water quality, and implement restoration projects. They often have volunteer opportunities such as removing invasive plant species, water quality monitoring, litter cleanups, and other events.

In addition, Maureen Wise offered these ideas in her Earth 911 article:

  • Pick up litter: Rain will wash trash into storm drains, which lead to rivers or lakes.
  • Collect and throw away dog waste: Pet waste is not a soil fertilizer and it can cause harmful algae blooms.
  • Properly maintain your septic system: Septic systems that don’t do their job well can result in human waste getting into your river or lake.
  • Wash your car on the grass: This prevents soapy water from running down the storm drain; surfactants in the soap can harm aquatic life. Better yet, use a car wash with an environmentally responsible washing system.
  • Avoid road salt or use it very sparingly: Salt is very toxic to aquatic life; consider more sustainable de-icing methods.
  • Maintain a green buffer zone along stream banks: Trees and other plants growing alongside riparian zones will keep your stream’s aquatic life healthier, reduce erosion, and reduce flooding.
  • Don’t mow directly adjacent to water bodies: Mowing too close to the water can result in erosion.
  • Reduce fertilizer and pesticide use: Fertilizer runoff can cause algae blooms and pesticides can poison aquatic life, wildlife, and pets.
  • Keep your storm drain clear: Remove fallen leaves, branches, litter, and other obstructions to reduce road flooding.
  • Join your local watershed group: Take part in events or financially contribute.
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