2004 Denver Annual Meeting (November 7–10, 2004)

Paper No. 3
Presentation Time: 2:00 PM


JESS, J.M.1, JOECKEL, R.M.1, GOEKE, J.W.2 and SUMMERSIDE, S.E.1, (1)Conservation and Survey Division, School of Natural Resources, Univ. of Nebraska, 102 Nebraska Hall, Lincoln, NE 68588-0517, (2)Conservation and Survey Division, School of Natural Resources, Univ. of Nebraska, WCREC, North Platte, NE 69101-7756, ssummerside1@unl.edu

Nebraska’s chief natural resource is typically considered to be water. Five years of severe drought have again stimulated public concerns about water, while simultaneously creating or intensifying conflicts between individuals and interests. Water has been one of the main areas of emphasis at Nebraska’s geological survey (Conservation and Survey Division or CSD), although the role of CSD has continued to develop along the lines of basic data collection and consultative activities, rather than those of regulation and enforcement. CSD’s extensive test-hole drilling program has logged thousands of wells since 1929, thereby characterizing near-surface geology relative to groundwater. At least four full-time staff members in offices across the state are dedicated to answering queries about water supply from well drillers and property owners.

Nebraska’s water issues present great communication challenges. Much of the population is highly misinformed of the basic nature of the hydrologic cycle, particularly the surface water-groundwater relationship. Attitudinal barriers, stemming from the highly emotional nature of water issues, retard educational efforts. There is also a growing disparity between the competing water interests represented by urban eastern Nebraska (three counties contain about two-thirds of the state’s total population) and the remainder of the state. Furthermore, there are major misconceptions about the economic value of groundwater and the practicability of its use. For example, groundwater sales to the Denver area have been proposed even though calculations prove such an endeavor to be uneconomical. Finally, despite decades of geological research at CSD, existing information may be inadequate or insufficiently integrated to meet needs or currently-perceived demands. Recent legislation (Nebraska LB 962) has called for annual assessments of river basins in the state, with the intent of underscoring the interconnectedness of surface water and groundwater. These points defend an ongoing survey mission in Nebraska, but also suggest the need for an evolution and refinement of water-related survey activities, particularly in terms of data analysis, information dissemination (including the use of electronic venues), and initiative-driven problem-solving.