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Agency updating groundwater plan for eastern Nebraska

(MGN)

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Regulations protecting water quality and quantity in eastern Nebraska are being updated for the first time in 20 years.

The proposed changes aim to further control pumping and reduce the potential for agriculture pollution in the Papio Missouri River Natural Resources District, the Omaha World-Herald reported .

The plan would limit when farmers can use fertilizers in an effort to keep nitrates out of the water system. High levels of nitrates can be particularly dangerous to infants and could possibly contribute to cancer.

Under the plan, farmers in the Platte or Elkhorn River valleys at the start of the growing season won't be allowed to use nitrogen fertilizer until March 1. Farmers would also be restricted from using fertilizers in the fall. Fertilizing would be allowed beginning Nov. 1 in the rest of the district.

The Platte and Elkhorn River valleys are more vulnerable to fertilizer because the water table is close to the surface and the soil is sandy.

The plan would also require wells that pump more than 50 gallons per minute to acquire a permit from the natural resources district before construction. It would require wells of that size to be at least 600 feet away from other wells.

"These rules are aimed at protecting the integrity (of) the water quality that we have," said Paul Woodward, groundwater management engineer district.

The rules will be discussed at public forums in Dakota City, Tekamah and Omaha.

"We are encouraging farmers and landowners and community folks to participate in these outreach meetings," said John Hansen, president of the Nebraska Farmers Union.

The natural resources district board may vote on the plan as soon as February.

The plan is necessary because of growing threats of contamination and pollution, officials said.

"This groundwater management plan kind of becomes the umbrella that protects everyone's drinking water," Woodward said.

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