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Salt Creek Watershed Project

Background Information


Water is vital to Nebraska.  With approximately half of the state's cropland under irrigation, agriculture, by far, is the leading consumer of water.  Water is essential for other uses as well: communities, power generation, tourism and manufacturing.  But most importantly, water is essential for life itself. No matter where people live, in large cities or on an isolated farm, they all need water. Groundwater provides approximately 85 percent of Nebraska's drinking water . Fortunately, Nebraska has excellent water resources - ground and surface.  Probably the best known is the Ogallala/High Plains Aquifer, which lies beneath much of the state. Not as well known is that Nebraska ranks 10th nationally in miles of rivers and streams.   Unfortunately, we have not always managed our water resources well.  Nor have we done the things needed to ensure long-term quality.  The challenge is to ensure the continued availability of water, adequate in both quantity and quality, for today's and future needs.  "It's a worn-out phrase to say that 'water is the lifeblood of the state,' but it is worn out because it is true." - Nebraska Gov. E. Benjamin Nelson.  Wise management of our resources is a big factor in meeting that challenge.   We manage water when we slow or halt runoff from rain, store streamflows and pump groundwater. These actions affect water use and conservation and help prevent pollution .   Management also can help prevent and, in some cases clean up, water pollution. Water quality concerns are now as important to Nebraskans as quantity concerns have been for decades.  Urban and rural Nebraskans share the responsibility of wisely managing water. Sharing a resource requires educated citizens and policy makers. Education is the key to understanding water issues.

Groundwater Level Changes in Nebraska

In Nebraska, groundwater primarily is used for agricultural irrigation, as well as for municipal and domestic supplies.  Groundwater withdrawals, without adequate recharge, can create stresses on the groundwater system with unknown long-term consequences.   Therefore, in 1930, the Conservation and Survey Division of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the U.S. Geological Survey began a cooperative water-level measurement program to observe and document, on a continuing basis, the changes in groundwater levels throughout Nebraska.  This program includes evaluation of the adequacy and accuracy of the water-level information collected and provides a means for data storage, retrieval and dissemination.

The period of record for many observation wells is too short to adequately determine long-term changes in water levels.  However, where possible, an individual comparison is made between 1992 water levels and estimated predevelopment water levels.  An estimated predevelopment water level is the approximate average water level at a well site prior to any development that significantly affects water levels.  Hereafter, the term predevelopment water levels will be used to represent estimated predevelopment water levels.  All available water-level data collected prior to or during the early stages of groundwater development are used to estimate predevelopment water levels.

Groundwater-level data has a variety of uses in the evaluation of groundwater resources in a given area.  This data can be used in conjunction with other data to:

  1. Determine the amount of groundwater in storage and its availability for use.
  2. Assess the water-supply outlook by determining changes in the volume of groundwater in storage.
  3. Identify areas where changes in groundwater levels may have an economic impact.
  4. Assist state and local agencies in the formulation and administration of resource-management programs.
  5. Determine or estimate the rate and direction of groundwater movement, specific yield of aquifers, base flow of streams, sources and amounts of groundwater recharge, and locations and amounts of groundwater discharge.

There are some dramatic changes in groundwater levels in the state of Nebraska.  Some areas are seeing wells rise up to 120 feet whereas some areas, wells are declining up to 90 feet.   Look at these areas on the Nebraska map and see if you can hypothesize some possibilities on why these areas are seeing such drastic changes in only a short amount of time.  The areas of the map with substantial changes have links to the explanation of why that area is experiencing such a change.  After you have hypothesized just move your icon to the area and click and find the answer!

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Groundwater Background




Contamination of Groundwater