Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality
Winter 2002/2003
Year of Clean Water Celebrated
Norris High School FFA Receives National Honors
October 2002 marked the 30th anniversary of the enactment of the Clean Water Act. This anniversary served as a milestone in the nation’s efforts to protect our water resources, and also presented an opportunity to enhance the public’s appreciation for the importance of our water resources. The America’s Clean Water Foundation, a Washington, DC-based nonprofit organization, led a series of events to commemorate the anniversary. These events were designed to celebrate our successes as a nation in addressing water quality issues, and to build a better understanding of the remaining water quality challenges and solutions.

Norris High School FFA members collect samples at "Test Your Well Night."As part of the kick-off for the 30th anniversary, America’s Clean Water Foundation and the Smithsonian Institution hosted a National Youth Watershed Summit October 6-10. The summit was held at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Edgewater, Maryland. Students from Norris High School, located near Lincoln in Lancaster County, were chosen by Gov. Mike Johanns to attend the summit and represent Nebraska.

The Norris students were chosen due to the Norris FFA’s involvement in a two-year project called Safe Water Tomorrow Through Pollution Prevention Today. The project was originally developed and sponsored by the Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department. Assisting the students were additional partners, including Norris High School, the Lancaster and Gage county extension offices, the Lower Platte South, Lower Big Blue, and Nemaha natural resources districts, the Groundwater Foundation, and the Lancaster County Groundwater Guardian team.

Safe Water Tomorrow Through Pollution Prevention Today was developed as a method of teaching rural and farm residents about activities that can help protect groundwater, the source of drinking water for most rural Nebraskans. When it became apparent that the program needed to be expanded, the Lincoln/Lancaster County Health Department asked the Norris FFA to assist. Initially, Norris students assisted in revising a checklist used to educate rural residents about pollution prevention practices. The students also helped develop information for a CD-Rom to teach students about groundwater, point and nonpoint source groundwater contamination, how to complete the checklist, and how to collect water samples to test for nitrates and other contaminants.

Following training involving groundwater and pollution prevention topics, and the use of Global Positioning System (GPS) equipment, Norris FFA members began contacting rural residents of southern Lancaster and northern Gage counties. The residents were asked to participate in the Safe Water Tomorrow Through Pollution Prevention Today program. The students assisted the residents in completing the pollution prevention checklist. They also located the resident’s drinking water well using GPS, and collected a sample from the well. The well location data the students collected was then used to produce a map showing the location and nitrate level of each well tested.

Norris FFA members discuss their project with a judge at the Youth Watershed Summit.The Norris students also visited local communities and conducted several activities involving the public. They hosted five “Test Your Well” nights in which students asked area residents to bring water samples to be tested for the presence of nitrates. Lincoln/Lancaster County Health Department officials were available at these sessions to answer water quality-related questions.
Communities were also asked to participate in and sponsor an event called “Find A Well Day.” Students, with the endorsement and support of the local governing board, went door-to-door asking residents about the presence of abandoned wells that needed to be decommissioned (permanently sealed). If a resident elected to decommission a well, the appropriate natural resources district (NRD) was contacted and arrangements made. NRDs provide cost-share funds to pay for a portion of well decommissioning costs, and the well owner is usually responsible for the remainder of the cost. The Safe Water Tomorrow Through Pollution Prevention Today project offered reimbursement to the well owner to cover the remaining costs not paid for by the NRD.

Norris students Adam Schaaf, Cory Hart, Dustin Doeschot, Katie Jenkins, and their advisor Kristyn Harms represented the Norris FFA at the Youth Watershed Summit. Approximately 200 students attended, representing 46 states and the District of Columbia. Students learned about research techniques used to study watersheds and discussed technical policy issues related to clean water and watershed protection. Students also collected specimens from Chesapeake Bay, canoed on one of its tributaries, and learned about species threatened with extinction because of water pollution in the bay.

The Norris group presented its Safe Water Tomorrow Through Pollution Prevention Today project to a panel of judges. When the winning projects were announced, Nebraska’s representatives had placed third, with Nevada second and Maine taking top honors. The judges cited the Norris presentation for its clearness, and for the project’s unique focus on public involvement.
Norris FFA members being congratulated by Governor Mike Johanns for their accomplishments at the Youth Watershed Summit.
On November 8th, Gov. Johanns met with the Norris students to congratulate them for their 3rd place finish, and their outstanding representation of Nebraska at the Youth Watershed Summit. Gov. Johanns also thanked them for their efforts in improving water quality in the state.
For additional information about the “Safe Water Tomorrow Through Pollution Prevention Today” project, contact John Chess, Lincoln/Lancaster County Health Dept., 3140 N St., Lincoln, NE 68510 Phone (402) 441-8000
Clean Water Act
The Clean Water Act, one of the first and most successful national environmental laws, set the goal of restoring and maintaining the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the nation’s waters. In the past three decades, Clean Water Act programs have yielded measurable improvements in water quality throughout the nation. Streams that were once devoid of fish and other aquatic life now support numerous and varied aquatic populations. The water quality of numerous lakes that were once choked by pollution is now vastly improved. Point source discharges from municipal and industrial sources are being controlled. Yet, much remains to be done to achieve the goals of the Act and ensure that the nation’s waters are “fishable and swimmable.”
Article by Francina Berney and Rich Webster

Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality
1200 "N" Street, Suite 400
P.O. Box 98922
Lincoln, Nebraska 68509
(402) 471-2186