Groundwater Quality

Managing Groundwater Quality for 35 Years

In 1987, Central Platte NRD’s Groundwater Quality Management Program was the first in the Central Platte Valley to address widespread high groundwater nitrate problems. Nitrate levels in the groundwater and vadose zone have been reduced using a long-term, common sense management approach. Prior to the Program's adoption, nitrate levels in some areas tested at 19 parts per million. The current average is down to 13.3 ppm, however, there are high nitrate areas in the District that require monitoring.

CPNRD works with producers to implement best management practices and regulations as needed to reach safe nitrogen levels in groundwater. The Program utilizes cost-share payments to implement practices that use water and fertilizer efficiently. Annual reporting and water sampling in high nitrate areas is required. Another effective tool is the 400 demonstration sites located on local producers’ fields.

Use this link to click anywhere in the U.S. and follow where a water drop travels to the ocean. The USGS River Runner was designed for water science communication.

Management Plan

Phase I     Average nitrates concentration 0 - 7.5 ppm
Phase II    Average nitrate concentration 7.6 - 15 ppm
Phase III   Average nitrate concentration 15.1+ ppm
Phase IV  Areas where nitrate levels aren't declining at an acceptable rate.

Because the phases are by area, individual wells in a Phase Area may be higher or lower than the designated range of nitrate concentrations. Other factors, including proximity to a municipal water supply and vadose zone nitrates, are also used in determining Phase Areas.

MAPS of each Phase Area available at 

Nitrogen Management Program reports are due March 31st for all crops in Phase II & III Nitrogen Management areas and must be entered on the District’s online crop reporting form. The March deadline was set to allow producers to utilize UNL’s nitrogen recommendation for the upcoming irrigation season; which produces a recommendation for each field as users enter their data.  Web site address:

Complete the two-page report before submitting.  Include:
*Legal description of well(s) irrigating each crop, # of acres of each crop
*User name/password. If crop consultant/fertilizer dealer completes form, provide username/password to them.
Page 1: Previous crop(s) grown, actual yield, fertilizer applied, water usage. If a field was prevent plant state that in Comments section.
Page 2: Crop(s) to be grown, expected yield, irrigation info, soil/water test results, legume or manure/sludge credits

Water & Soil Tests
Producers planting corn, grain sorghum, or potatoes are required to take deep soil & groundwater samples for Nitrogen to include with the annual report. The form will ask the expected yields and credits for past legume crop and manure or sludge. UNL’s recommended nitrogen application rate will appear as the data is entered.

Water Samples: The groundwater analysis for nitrogen content should be taken on each field. Water sample bottles are provided by your agronomist, crop consultant, or lab.

Soil Samples: The deep soils analysis for residual nitrogen (NO3-N) must be taken on each field or 80-acre tract. The composite sample tested must consist of a mixture from no less than one three-foot probe every five acres. The report from the lab must be attached to the annual report.

Non-Compliance: Violations will be enforced prior to the irrigation season. Cease and Desist Orders will be mailed to producers who fail to complete and submit forms by the March 31st deadline. Potential penalties for violation are the possibility of a fine ranging from $1,000 – $5,000 per violation and/or loss of irrigated acres, ineligibility for NRD cost-share, and restriction from transferring irrigated acres.

For more information about the crop reporting form or the Groundwater Quality Program, contact Tricia Dudley 308-385-6282 or

Bell Reports on Health & Water Quality Research
Jesse Bell, PhD and director of the Claire M. Hubbard Professor of Water, Climate and Health Program at the University of Nebraska Medical Center recently presented results on health and water quality research.

Bell reported that Nebraska has one of the highest rates of pediatric cancer in the nation. UNMC and other states have found a correlation between nitrogen fertilizers, animal and human waste. The greatest exposure has been found in agricultural areas and private wells.

Numerous scientific studies have looked at the relationship of nitrate in drinking water on human health. High concentration of nitrate in drinking water have been linked to Methemoglobinemia, colorectal cancer, thyroid disease and neural tube defects. Other cancers have also been linked to high concentrations of nitrates including kidney cancer, bladder cancer, and Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma. Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma had a three-fold increase in risk with nitrate and atrazine in the Nebraska study. Alzheimer's, Diabetes and Parkinson's Disease have also shown a link to high nitrate concentrations.
See Presentation


Vadose Zone Nitrate Study
In 2016, an agreement with UNL was approved for $80,000 to revisit vadose zone core sites originally collected in the 1990s, and to determine where additional cores may best characterize nitrate storage & estimated transport rates to the water table. Core samples were collected for vadose zone nitrate including some areas previously sampled.

The three-year study of vadose zone nitrate conducted by UNL graduate student Jordan Shields compared 27 locations within the CPNRD on a variety of land uses, topography and soil type with previously cored areas in the 1990’s. The study included nitrate storage under 24 sites including five gravity irrigated sites and 22 center pivot irrigated cropland.

Results showed a 10% reduction of vadose zone nitrate since the 1990’s; however, overall averages show vadose zone nitrate about 30% higher than the average nitrate levels under the gravity irrigated land. Vadose zone nitrate ranged from 71 to 8,860 pounds per acre of nitrate-N district-wide. Using changes in depth of nitrate concentration peaks, the transport rate (rate in which nitrate contamination travels) was determined at 0.9 to 2.5 feet per year.

The study also found several cores with over 2,000 pounds per acre of nitrate-N and significant concentrations of ammonia at depth in many locations. The report recommended further investigation of Phase II areas and in locations with vadose nitrate measuring more than 2,000 pounds per acre.

Nebraska Groundwater Quality Clearinghouse

The Nebraska Department of Environment & Energy recently launched the Groundwater Quality Clearinghouse website with over 1.6 million sample results from 33,000 irrigation well locations taken by the NRDs. Key features of the map are well locations, nitrate measurements, along with 281 minerals and chemicals whose well compositions were analyzed. The map also showcases aquifer locations, topographic regions and bedrock geology. The site has practical uses for the public. Farmers can check the composition of existing groundwater for chemical content to see how much fertilizer they will need, and gauge which locations have land suitable for raising livestock.
Visit the website at

2021 Violation Report

As of July 22, 2021, six landowners remained in violation of the cease and desist orders filed. Those landowners include Michael Kelliher, Kearney; Kurt Kuhn, Clarks; Mark Lesiak, Clarks; Mike Munsterman, Glenville; William Soll, Columbus; Richard Urban, Silver Creek. Three of the landowners are repeat offenders from 2020.

Crop Reporting Website

The Crop Reporting Website is updated with more user-friendly features! Each page of the form is now auto-saved. UNL’s recommended Nitrogen application rates are visible and adjusted as you fill out the form, so you will see the results of each application. And you’ll receive an email receipt when your form is submitted successfully.

Nitrogen Certification

Nitrogen certification is valid for 4 years. Producers with certification expiring will receive a certification test to be completed and returned to the CPNRD office. Certification from other districts is accepted and producers who attend CPNRD’s annual Water Programs Update are not required to complete the test.  Your Contact Tricia Dudley  (308) 385-6282

Nebraska Groundwater Quality Clearinghouse

Labs for Water & Soil Testing

Ward Laboratories – Kearney (4007 Cherry Ave) (800) 887-7645
Platte Valley Laboratories – Gibbon (1002 Hwy 30) (308) 468-5975

ServiTech Laboratories
*Hastings  1602 Park W Drive (402) 463-3522
Drop off locations (call before dropping off)
*Columbus 2066 14th Avenue
Pick up – 8:00 am Thursdays, starting when needed
*York 3D Supply  3605 N Delaware
Pick up – 9:00 am Wednesdays year-round, Fridays in the fall
*Kearney  714 3rd Ave
Pick up - 8:30 am Tuesdays
*Grand Island  3721 W Nebraska Hwy 2
Pick up – 9:00 am Daily, Monday – Friday