Nebraska has some of the best water resources in the nation and the world. Groundwater (located beneath the state’s surface in porous regions known as aquifers) could cover the state with nearly 40 feet of water if it were all pumped to the surface. Because groundwater is so plentiful and reliable, 85% of the state’s population uses groundwater as drinking water. Nebraska’s surface water resources are surprisingly extensive, including approximately 24,000 miles of flowing rivers and streams and about 430 square miles of lakes. Wildlife, including bass, native trout and other fish, rely on Nebraska’s streams for survival and prosperity.
Nebraska Water Quality: A Brief Overview
Many challenges face Nebraskans when trying to protect this valuable resource. Runoff from rain and irrigation can carry chemicals and topsoil into streams in both urban and rural areas, causing surface water contamination. More than 50 years of crop production has allowed fertilizers and ag chemicals to reach groundwater in parts of the state, causing contamination.
All streams and lakes have assigned uses based on the quality of the water. Is the water quality good enough to support fish and other aquatic life, swimming, irrigation, or drinking water? NDEQ takes water quality monitoring information and determines if the water quality of the water body can support its intended uses. More information can be found in the 2012 Nebraska Water Monitoring Programs Report . Bold lines and triangles on the statewide water quality map show where the intended use has not been met due to water quality problems. Many of the problems are related to bacteria, but other problems exist as well. Dissolved oxygen, nutrients, mercury, selenium, sediments and atrazine are among the most common.
Over 30 organizations and agencies collect groundwater quality samples from wells across the state each year. This data is reviewed each year in the annual Nebraska Groundwater Quality Monitoring Report. The statewide water quality map shows wells with nitrate contamination greater than the drinking water limit of 10 parts per million (ppm). Nebraska’s 23 local Natural Resources Districts use the groundwater quality data to make management decisions aimed at reducing groundwater contamination, which is mainly from nonpoint (diffuse) sources such as long term use of fertilizer and ag chemicals.
Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality
1200 "N" Street, Suite 400
P.O. Box 98922
Lincoln, Nebraska 68509