By Katrina Vaitkus
Since 1972, the Middle Niobrara Natural Resources District (MNNRD) has been devoted to helping solve natural resource issues in their area. Many of those issues revolve around erosion and water quality in the Long Pine Creek Watershed. This watershed, which is found in north central Nebraska, encompasses approximately 332,000 acres, many of which are designated for agriculture.
To help with these issues and improve the watershed, the district has utilized a variety of programs, including the USDA-NRCS Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), along with grants through the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy (NDEE) 319 Nonpoint Source and Nebraska Environmental Trust (NET) programs. However, even with the funds from these programs, MNNRD found they lacked the technical support needed to complete projects.
That changed in 2018, when the district received its first NACD Technical Assistance Grant, which allowed them to bring on Chandler Schmidt as their watershed coordinator. Schmidt, who previously worked for NRCS in Illinois and Nebraska and with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Mississippi, has assisted in the completion of a multitude of diverse projects.
One of the major projects Schmidt’s been working on is the SD-14 Rehabilitation Project, which is aiming to maintain stream elevation, reduce erosion, and decrease excess sediment. The project is putting in a three-tier engineered rock riffle structure in Sand Draw Creek to prevent stream degradation. The project was completed this past May.
Schmidt has also been working with landowners on water management pertaining to flows and infiltration on their properties using 319 or NET money for Best Management Practices (BMPs). In the summer of 2019, for instance, Schmidt helped install a side tributary structure for a landowner on Sand Draw Creek whose inlet culvert blew out in the March 2019 bomb cyclone blizzard. “We were able to assist in replacing the structure to manage water and enhance the water course,” Schmidt said.
Not only has Schmidt helped provide technical support to landowners, he’s also helped the district apply for other funding sources that can further increase the district’s project capacity. In 2018, the district applied for the USDA-NRCS Watershed and Flood Prevention Operations (WFPO) Program. “Chandler was a big contributor in helping that application be successful with his knowledge of the watershed,” said Mike Murphy, MNNRD General Manager.
Schmidt has also established a great working connection with landowners in the area – a great asset that cannot be overlooked. “Having the right person to interact and promote conservation with the landowners is what’s truly needed,” Murphy said.
The district has recently been awarded funding through the 2020 round of TA grants, allowing them to hire an engineer to further increase their technical assistance capacity.
“We are blessed with water, but we just got to help people realize how to use it properly,” said Murphy. “We are definitely blessed with an abundance of water that has added a new dynamic to the challenges of resource and water management.”