Local NRD manager travels to 8th World Water Forum

North Platte Natural Resources District General Manager John Berge shows off the inside of a telemetry and remote water meter unit installed on an alfalfa pivot south of Scottsbluff, during a tour of NRD projects, Monday, Sept. 11, 2017.

SCOTTSBLUFF — North Platte Natural Resources District General Manager John Berge left the United States Friday to take part in the 8th World Water Forum, for Brasilia, Brazil.

The World Water Forum is sponsored by the World Water Congress, and is the largest water conference in the world. Berge said they will be expecting 45,000 attendees, including 10 heads of state and over 100 ministers of agriculture or interior from around the world. Berge was asked by the Robert B. Daugherty Water for Food Global Institute at the University of Nebraska to present at the conference, and speak about what it calls “the regional process,” one of six processes in the conference which focuses on groundwater management and governance.

“I think that people would be surprised to learn that there is an interest all over the world about the type of governance that we have for ground water management right here in western Nebraska,” Berge said.

Berge said when the NRDs were being conceived in the 1960s, there was a heavy emphasis on local control and utilizing locally elected boards of directors to make policy and fiduciary decisions for ground water management districts.

The second piece the Water for Food Institute asked Berge to present on was the North Platte NRD’s use of data in its water management decisions, from the data collection process, to how it is used to make management decisions for allocation levels and incentive programs. The data helps the NRD be more landowner-friendly as they help the NRD meet its obligations.

“I think it’s a pretty good honor for the North Platte NRD to be recognized as one of those institutions that they would like to have present at this conference,” Berge said. “I think we have a very good story to tell.”

Berge said the NRD has done well in the first phase of it’s integrated management plan, and that it has set the course for success in the second increment of the plan.

“We’ve been a strong participant in the Platte River Recovery Implementation program, and we’ve enhanced the efficiency of irrigation in this district over the course of the past 10 or 15 years probably ten-fold since the inception of all of these management actions,” he said.

However, there’s still work to do.

“We are in the process of expanding our telemetry project, and by the end of March we should have 861 units installed across the district, where we will be collecting data and sharing data real time to enhance their management on the ground,” Berge said.

Nitrogen management and incentive program policy changes are also in the works to ensure that the NRD can manage its obligations in the absence of the special levy authority which has sunset after a bill which would have extended the authority died in the state legislature.

“All of that is a very good story to tell in front of all of these people from around the world who have varying degrees of sophistication as it relates to water management,” Berge said. “I’m excited to go and be a part of that.”

Berge said he hopes to learn and compare and contrast the situations with other countries around the world who are in much worse shape than the united states.

“There are about 1 billion people in the world that spend about six hours a day collecting water for cooking and sanitation,” Berge said. “Those kinds of things sort of put everything in perspective that we’re dealing with, although we have a lot to consider when you contemplate the fact that we’re the bread basket of the world with a significant population shift in the coming years or so.”

Berge hopes to glean lessons learned from using big data to solve big problems and return to apply those lessons here in Nebraska, as well as share the lessons learned to help the world get a little bit better at water management.

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