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Water: Nonpoint Source Success Stories

Nebraska: Section 319 Success Stories, Vol. III

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Story Separation Bar Walnut Creek Lake Project:
Partnership Drives Watershed Protection


Elbert Traylor
Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality
1200 N Street, Suite 400
Lincoln, NE 68509-8922
Elbert.Traylor@ ndeq.state.ne.us
Primary Sources of Pollution:


construction site runoff
Primary NPS Pollutants:


Project Activities:

erosion control ordinance

sediment retention basins

streambank stabilization

low total phosphorus concentrations and sediment delivery

excellent habitat for new lake

The Walnut Creek Lake and Recreation Area, near Papillion, Nebraska, represents a new approach to reservoir development. Walnut Creek Lake planners, aware that Omaha area lakes suffer from excess sediment and nutrients, set out to prevent those problems from the start. The project partners were the Papio-Missouri River Natural Resources District, the City of Papillion, Sarpy County, University of Nebraska Cooperative Extension, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service, Game and Parks Commission, and Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ).

An initial accomplishment was the creation of a 15-member Clean Lakes Community Council consisting of area farmers, residents, and other private citizens. The Council's mission was to develop management goals for the lake watershed that would serve the needs and desires of the community and protect the lake from polluted runoff. The Council quickly established itself as the driving force for the project.

Innovative approaches to protecting watershed

The Walnut Creek watershed was entirely agricultural and enjoyed an unusually high level of land treatment at the beginning of the project. The Council and project partners recognized, however, that creation of a lake would quickly attract residential and commercial development in the watershed and with it the excessive erosion characteristic of land development. To guard against this threat, the Council drafted a special ordinance for the lake watershed that requires a high level of erosion control on construction sites and provides for higher penalties than usual for violators of the ordinance. The City of Papillion subsequently adopted the ordinance within its jurisdiction of the lake's watershed. The practices required by the ordinance provide the first barrier to keep sediment on the development site and out of the lake.

Further protections were built into the design of the lake itself. The DEQ's Nonpoint Source Pollution Management Program provided funding through section 319 for outreach and installation of best management practices to reduce sediment and nutrient runoff into the lake. Islands and jetties dissipate wave action and prevent shoreline erosion, and sediment retention basins intercept sediment before it reaches the lake. Shoreline plantings stabilize soils, break up wave action, and provide food and habitat for aquatic organisms. Pallet stacks, tire reefs, and brush piles placed in the bottom of the lake provide shelter for fish. Restrictions prevent boaters from generating destructive wakes that erode shorelines and disturb aquatic wildlife. The cost of installing these practices as preventive measures is a fraction of the cost of installing restorative measures after a lake has suffered degradation.


To protect against the high levels of erosion caused by commercial development around Walnut Creek Lake, strict erosion control standards were implemented around the lake.

Water quality improvements

The goal of the project partners and the Community Council was to create a model lake designed to resist the pollutant pressures typical in eastern Nebraska and to meet or exceed its design lifetime. Early water quality data suggest that goal will be achieved. The initial water transparency of 61 inches is expected to stabilize in the long term to about 28 inches, well above the average of 22 inches for other area lakes. In-lake total phosphorus concentrations should stabilize at 0.07 milligram per liter (mg/L) from the current 0.05 mg/L; other area lakes average 0.08 mg/L total phosphorus. Sediment basins and other erosion controls will limit lake volume loss to 0.27 percent per year compared to the average 0.85 percent loss in other area lakes.

High water quality and habitat enhancements are expected to make Walnut Creek Lake the premier fishery among the Omaha area lakes. An added bonus of the project is that it leaves behind an energized group of watershed residents. The Clean Lakes Community Council is dedicated to ensuring that protective measures remain in place to protect the lake from polluted runoff.

DEQ has adopted a community-based approach to watershed planning for all nonpoint source priority watersheds, based on the experience with the Walnut Creek project. Formation of a Citizen Watershed Council to advise the agency's Technical Advisory Committee is a key feature of the process. A manual is being developed to guide the project sponsor, Watershed Council, and Technical Advisory Committee through the planning process. The process is being initiated or implemented in two watersheds where new reservoirs are being constructed and in six watersheds where reservoir renovations are planned or under way.

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Story Separation Bar
Wellhead Protection in Guide Rock:
Village Closes Abandoned Wells to Protect Water Supply


Jackie Stumpff
Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality
Primary Sources of Pollution:

abandoned wells
Primary NPS Pollutants:

Project Activities:

plugging/capping abandoned wells

closure of 37 abandoned wells

projected decrease in nitrate levels

Guide Rock, like many small towns and villages, recently found itself facing concerns about the community's environmental health. The south-central Nebraska village (1990 population 290) contacted the Department ofEnvironmental Quality's (DEQ) Nebraska Environmental Partnerships (NEP) program to discuss its problems and concerns. NEP provided Guide Rock with a grant so the village could complete a community assessment and identify current or potential problems with its drinking water and wastewater systems.

The primary concern identified by the assessment was high nitrate levels in the village's public water wells. The nitrate levels had started to increase gradually in 1995; by December 1997 they were above 10 parts per million, the maximum level of nitrates in drinking water considered safe for all consumers of the water. In October 1999 nitrate levels were 10.4 ppm and 9.4 ppm in the village's two wells.

Source of contamination

Because of concerns about the nitrate levels, the NEP team assigned to work with Guide Rock discussed the Wellhead Protection Area program with the village board. (The Wellhead Protection Area program assists communities and other public water suppliers in preventing contamination of their water supplies.) The board asked the DEQ's Ground Water Section to proceed with drawing a wellhead protection area map for Guide Rock's public water supply wells. A meeting was held for all village residents to discuss the proposed wellhead protection area in 1998, and the village board passed an ordinance to designate the protection area.

"The village board is to be commended, as it has been very supportive of these efforts and has been active in undertaking preventive activities," says M.J. Rose, Nebraska Environmental Partnerships program coordinator. "In particular, the village board is committed to providing the residents a good public water supply at the least possible cost to residents."

Staff of the Wellhead Protection Program identified abandoned wells as a probable major source of the contamination of Guide Rock's water supply wells and recommended closing any unused wells in the community and the wellhead protection area. Correctly plugging and capping abandoned wells can eliminate the risk of contamination of the groundwater aquifer. In April 1999 the village board contacted the Lower Republican Natural Resources District (NRD) regarding the District's abandoned wells program, which provides up to 60 percent of the cost of properly closing a well.

The village board then sought assistance from NEP for possible funding sources to assist in closing wells. NEP helped the community secure a section 319 Small Projects Assistance grant to develop a promotion campaign and pay the remaining 40 percent of closure costs. These two funding sources enabled the village to pursue the proper closing of abandoned wells at no cost to Guide Rock's residents.

Successful enrollment in abandoned well program

Village board members and the village clerk conducted a survey of properties in Guide Rock and the wellhead protection area to locate abandoned wells. Residents were given information about the abandoned well program and were encouraged to attend a September 1999 public meeting to discuss the program. The Lower Republican NRD, DEQ, and a local well driller presented information at the meeting. Residents had the opportunity to ask questions and to sign up for the program. Thirty-seven wells were signed up and have since been closed through the program.

"Guide Rock's drinking water supply will be much safer," says Rose. "Numerous potential sources of contamination have been eliminated. I'm glad that Nebraska Environmental Partnerships was able to assist in this process. Since there are additional abandoned wells in the village in need of proper closing, I hope that this initial success will encourage citizens to volunteer other wells for the program in the future."


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