Environmental group sets forum to discuss nitrates, other contaminants in state’s waters

By: - August 31, 2023 7:40 pm

(Getty Images)

LINCOLN — A Lincoln-based environmental group has organized a Sept. 16 forum focusing on nitrates and other contaminants in Nebraska’s streams and groundwater.

Guardians of the Aquifer, a group founded by author Mary Pipher to oppose the Keystone XL pipeline, is sponsoring the “What’s in Our Water, Nebraska?” forum from 9 a.m. to noon, CDT, at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Union Hall, at 1409 Old Farm Road in Lincoln.

Jane Egan, a coordinator of the event, said the Guardians typically hold an annual forum on health, climate and environmental issues, and this year the group decided to focus on contaminants in Nebraska’s water.

Nitrate levels from fertilizers have been rising in the state’s groundwater in recent decades, raising concern and prompting the State Legislature to pass a law seeking to promote more “healthy soils.”

The state’s 2022 annual report on groundwater quality found that nearly 30% of the state’s public water systems — 157 out of 550 — were required to test nitrate levels four times a year due to concerns about high concentrations of nitrates.

The level deemed unsafe for drinking is 10 parts per billion, and communities such as Hastings, Edgar, Trumbull and Creighton have had to spend millions for treatment or to pipe water in from other communities.

Nitrates can cause “blue baby syndrome,” where babies’ skin color changes and babies can become irritable or lethargic. Nitrates have also been linked to birth defects and some cancers.

The Guardians are also concerned about other contaminants in water, such as herbicides, and pesticides used on lawns, gardens and agricultural crops, as well as runoff from manure from feedlots, and confined hog and chicken operations.

Presenters during a panel discussion will be: John Hannah, a former member of the Lower Platte North Natural Resources District Board; Jesse Bell of the University of Nebraska Medical Center; Crystal Powers, a research/communication specialist with the Nebraska Water Center; Anthony Schutz, an agricultural law professor at the University of Nebraska College of Law; and Jonathan Leo, an Omaha-based environmental and land-use attorney.

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Paul Hammel
Paul Hammel

Senior Reporter Paul Hammel has covered the Nebraska state government and the state for decades. Previously with the Omaha World-Herald, Lincoln Journal Star and Omaha Sun, he is a member of the Omaha Press Club's Hall of Fame. He grows hops, brews homemade beer, plays bass guitar and basically loves traveling and writing about the state. A native of Ralston, Nebraska, he is vice president of the John G. Neihardt Foundation.