The Lower Elkhorn Natural Resources District Board of Directors tabled a resolution promoting water quality despite the ongoing issue of high nitrate levels in parts of the district.
The proposed resolution would serve as a statement that the board is committed to addressing the nitrates issue, said Mike Sousek, general manager.
“This is just an acknowledgment that this current board, the body that’s here today, is in line with everything it says here,” he said. “It shows that this board does have a desire to engage in ways and means necessary to achieve its groundwater management requirements.”
High levels of nitrates have been found in the groundwater in parts of Cuming, Dodge and Colfax counties. High nitrate levels have been linked to several serious health conditions in infants and unborn babies, including blue baby syndrome and several types of pediatric cancer. Nebraska has one of the highest rates of pediatric cancer and a higher than average number of birth defects.
The main causes of the high nitrate levels are fertilizers and manure.
Sousek said he had begun meeting with various groups about the problem.
“There is a need to explain, not only to these individuals, but the general public, what our position is. And I get asked questions I sometimes don’t necessarily know how to respond to,” he said. “This here one-page document pretty much encompasses everything. The why we’re here and what our goal is.”
After several brief discussions, director Scott Clausen made a motion to table the vote.
“I would just like to make a motion to table this until we’ve got a little more time to investigate it. I think we just need to look at it a little bit closer before we make that decision,” he said. “We are here to protect the water, the soils, everything anyway. That’s part of our duties as the Lower Elkhorn board. So I think we should table this until we study it a little bit more.”
The directors then voted 10-4 to table the vote but continued to discuss the resolution.
“I guess what part of this do we need to study, what part are you not comfortable with?” Sousek asked Clausen.
“Our 12 responsibilities are spelled out,” Clausen said. “I really don’t think that by tasking us with this resolution that that’s going to change anything.”
Sousek said the resolution would not change the district’s purpose or responsibilities. Instead, the resolution would reaffirm the board’s commitment to those responsibilities.
“This is just the board addressing that we believe in the NRDs, we believe in these state statutes, we believe in local control, we do not want federal oversight, or even state oversight over local issues, and that we are up to the task of taking on that responsibility,” Sousek said.
Chairman Mark Hall said he voted to table the resolution to have more conversation at upcoming meetings.
“There’s a lot of information, things are changing at a more accelerated basis in our personal lives, in government and in the NRD,” he said. “I think there’s more discussion to be made. I think that it’s important that that discussion come out and be shared with the board members.”
Director Joel Hansen said he disagreed with the decision to table the resolution.
“I’m disappointed we tabled it, because it sounds like we wanted to more discuss why we don’t need it than just we’re trying to find out more about it,” he said. “If we’re kicking this can down the road because we’re uncomfortable with having to go out and have uncomfortable discussion, get ready to have them next month at this meeting because it’ll happen.”
Hall said that board would have to make a decision on the resolution sooner or later.
“At some point, we just need to move on one way or the other,” he said.
Going forward, Sousek said he would try to address the concerns some board members have.
“I feel like we had minimal discussion on the resolution because the motion was made to table it, which killed discussion,” he said. “I guess over the next couple of weeks I’ll be reaching out to a few of the board members who seem to have concerns with this resolution and really try to figure out a path forward.”
State statutes already outline the district’s responsibilities. But the resolution emphasizes that the board is committed to local control, in addition to addressing water quality problems, Sousek said
“State statutes don’t necessarily go into local control of the natural resources or the overreach of the federal government,” he said. “There’s horror stories out there about the EPA, and I don’t know if people necessarily want the state Legislature to be making decisions on local issues out here in rural Nebraska.”
In previous meetings, Sousek has said that if the district doesn’t address the nitrates problem, then state or federal agencies will likely step in.
The directors will continue to discuss the resolution at their Thursday, Aug. 12, subcommittee meeting and vote on it again at the Thursday, Aug. 26, board of directors meeting.
“We’re going to pick this back up in a couple of weeks and continue the conversation,” Sousek said. “We’re really just trying to prepare ourselves, trying to prepare the board and this district to have an uncomfortable conversation.”
Story originally posted 10:43 p.m. July 22. It was updated with more information at 9:08 a.m. July 23.
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Want to learn more?
To read the proposed resolution, go to https://bit.ly/3xZY5QZ
The Lower Elkhorn Natural Resources District Board of Directors met Thursday at 1508 Square Turn Blvd. and virtually over Zoom.
Board members present: Roger Gustafson, Mark Hall, Chad Korth, Matt Steffen, Jerry Allemann, Gary Loftis, Scott McHenry, Joel Hansen, Kurt Janke, Anthony Wisnieski, Dennis Schultz, Scott Clausen, Jay Reikofski and Rod Zohner.
Board member absent: Bob Noonan
Meeting lasted: 45 minutes.
Others in attendance: NRD staff and members of the public and two media representative.
— Received income and expenses report
— Received cost share update
— Approved Logan East Rural Water System Advisory Committee recommendations
— Tabled resolution for water quality