U.S. Water News Online
O'NEILL, Neb. -- A local natural resources district is
proposing stricter control of farming practices to deal with
nitrate-contaminated groundwater in Holt and Antelope counties.
The Upper Elkhorn Natural Resources District scheduled a public
hearing recently in Orchard on whether to set stricter rules.
Nitrate levels in irrigation wells have increased in Holt County
to an average of 19 parts per million. In Antelope County, nitrates
have jumped to 13.6 parts per million. Both are above the federal
health standard of 10 parts per million.
The area of concern involves 23,000 acres southeast of Brunswick
in Antelope County and 45,440 acres in Holt County north of U.S.
Highway 275 and from Page to O'Neill.
Adjacent regions also have shown high nitrate levels in the
Unsafe nitrogen levels in groundwater are attributed to overuse of
Under stricter rules, fields larger than 40 acres where more than
50 pounds per acre of nitrogen fertilizer is applied would have to
undergo deep soil sampling. Those sample results would have to be
filed with the natural resources district by Feb. 1.
The expenses to cooperating irrigation farmers would be minimal,
district officials said, because many already are conducting deep
soil and water sampling required under best management practices.
Also, fall applications of fertilizer before Nov. 1 would be
prohibited, and livestock waste could not be spread on cropland
within 200 feet of creeks and ponds.
More than 200 letters were mailed to individual rural residents
and to 80 cooperating farm producers, notifying them of the public
hearing. There are 133 irrigation wells in Antelope County and 134
wells in Holt County that would be involved in any change.
``We need to keep the nitrate levels below 10 ppm to protect
humans, especially children and pregnant women, plus the elderly who
are on certain medications,'' said Dennis Schueth, manager of the
Upper Elkhorn NRD. ``Some stock wells are awfully high in nitrates,
which can become a concern for livestock, especially hogs.''
Schueth cited research which shows an increase in stomach, throat
and digestive cancer in some areas of Nebraska where nitrate levels
If nitrogen levels continue to rise, even farmers could face even
stricter rules in the future.
``Even so, it could take 40 or 50 years at this rate to bring
those nitrate levels down,'' Schueth said.
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