STUART — The Mead Ethanol calamity is a prime example that Nebraska must reorganize governmental agencies and put water protection under one umbrella. Nebraska has the most underground water of all 50 states, and we are failing miserably to protect it. In recent years, the Nebraska Departments of Environment and Energy were merged.
I can only imagine the big polluter industries pushing for that action because this makes it more convenient for those polluters to obtain environmental permits, a straighter path when environmental issues can be more easily bypassed. Nebraska Department of Energy and Environment, seems to automatically permit whatever comes before them as long as the boxes are checked. There is no parent to stand up and say “No.”
In 2011, I visited with the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality and expressed my concerns about the Keystone XL pipeline, specifically about leaks containing serious toxins, most concerning, benzene, which has a maximum contamination limit of only 5 ppb (parts per billion). Only 17 drops of benzene in a town’s 50,000 gallon water tower would make that water unsafe to drink. The response I got from the NDEQ was “TransCanada will let us know if there is a leak.”
Natural Resource Districts could wield more authority than they do in protecting our water, including how much is pumped from wells and the loads of chemicals dumped on fields, but they are up against farmers who exploit this great water resource, and many ag producers find it convenient to sit on NRD boards.
Nebraska water regulation is so disjointed, ineffective and most definitely not aimed at protecting this abundant resource.
Nebraska has the lion’s share of the Ogallala Aquifer, and according to Pope Francis, it is our moral obligation to protect our environment, not be guilty of ecocide. Continuing to poison our drinking water with various crop chemicals that cause non-Hodgkins lymphoma, pediatric brain cancers, birth defects, livestock problems and a multitude of human health disorders is just plain, common-sense wrong.
An increasing number of rural communities are trying to figure out how to remove nitrates from their groundwater supply. Even though 10 ppm (parts per million) of nitrates are allowed by EPA, some authorities say that is too much. The goal should zero added nitrate to our water. Yes, a very minuscule amount of nitrate can be naturally occurring, like around 1 ppm. Nitrates are tested in community water per regulation, but many toxins are not, such as atrazine, fungicides, neonicotinoids, glyphosate (active ingredient in Roundup), and PFAS chemicals. The majority of nitrates come from crop fertilizer.
I predict there will come a day that many rural people who enjoy good water from their private wells will no longer be able to do so because of contamination and the fact it will not be financially feasible to dig deep enough wells, as the aquifer, on average, continues to be depleted. For the Ogallala Aquifer to recharge fully, could mean time beyond the existence of people. I also see the day when our groundwater becomes so contaminated, our small rural communities will not be able to effectively treat the water. The city of Des Moines, Iowa, is a nightmare situation in dealing with the removal of copious amounts of nitrates.
We need a full aquifer to keep Nebraska beautiful. Without a full aquifer, our wetlands dry up, our spring-sourced waterways quit running, and our lush sub-irrigated hay meadows will turn into a dessert. Without clean and abundant water, wildlife and ecosystems disappear. All this has already started.
Water is truly life, and should be top priority in Nebraska, a state with the greatest abundance of groundwater in North America. Protecting our water should be about being proactive, not reactive.
Nebraska needs legislation and leadership to protect the Ogallala Aquifer.