Results and Accomplishments
Cooperative Conservation: Instrumental Partnership
The Natural Resources Conservation Service is targeting the Environmental Quality Incentives Program-Ground and Surface water funding at water quality and quantity concerns in central
Using the “local work group” of natural resources district officials, and other USDA agency representatives, NRCS is focusing on the Central Platte Natural Resources District groundwater management and high nitrate areas. The Central Platte Natural Resources Districts consists of all or parts of eleven counties along the
River in the middle of the state.
District Conservationist James Huntwork says, “In our EQIP applications we give additional points for gravity irrigation system conversion to sprinkler irrigation if the land is in the districts high nitrate areas. These ‘bonus points’ generally move those applications to the top, although not in every case.”
After the applications are ranked, if there are some conversion applications in the high nitrate area that don’t get funded from EQIP, the Natural Resources District offers a separate program of $150,000 as cost-share to make these conversions possible.
“The partnership has worked really well,” said Milt Moravek, assistant manager of the Central Platte NRD. “Federal funds are targeted at local problems, and then the district is able to further supplement those federal dollars.”
NRCS provides most of the technical assistance to these irrigation conversions with some technical help from the NRD.
Huntwork said EQIP ground and surface water dollars generally allow for 50 to 60 irrigation system conversions annually. The conversions are usually from gravity or furrow irrigation to a sprinkler system. The district dollars allow us to convert another 5 to 10 systems that otherwise wouldn’t get changed.
“NRCS estimates 18 to 20 inches of water, per acre, are NOT pumped because of the more efficient sprinkler systems. Some of the savings also comes from converting the pivot corners to non-irrigated land for dry land crops or wildlife habitat,” said Huntwork.
Calculating out those 20 inches of water times 160 acres times 50 conversions equates to 160,000 acre feet of water not being pumped (an acre foot is 12-inches of water covering one acre). “That’s a lot of water not being pumped, less fuel usage, and better fertilizer management,” said Huntwork.
In each contract, the farmer agrees to monitor and apply only the fertilizer levels needed by the crops. With a sprinkler system, that fertilizer application is a lot easier to manage. The district monitors this usage to measure the nitrate levels in the soil.
Moravek said our records on 100,000 acres monitored show an annual reduction of 93,000 pounds less of triazine, 2.4 million pounds less phosphate, 5.9 million pounds less of nitrate compounds leaching into area streams and groundwater, 350,000 gallons less fossil fuels used, and 10 million less kilowatt hours used. These numbers are significant.”
“The landowner is the key component in making these changes. They are changing their farming methods plus making a financial commitment themselves since these programs only pay part of the cost,” said Huntwork.
This partnership is now in its third year of using
Nebraska ’s water more efficiently.