WAVERLY – The Waverly City Council approved a memorandum of understanding regarding a demonstration farm that will look at nitrate use in farming.

At their April 14 meeting, the council approved the memorandum, which is necessary for the project to move forward. The demonstration farm is a collaboration between the City of Waverly and Lower Platte South Natural Resources District along with the Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and is the part of the city’s Drinking Water Protection Management Plan, said City Administrator Stephanie Fisher.

The demonstration farm will be located on 60 acres the city owns south of Waverly that is rented for farming. It is where five of the city’s wells are located, Fisher said.

The demonstration farm will assess nitrate leaching in soils by comparing farming practices used by the tenant who farms the city ground and a test plot farmed by UNL. The tenant, Dave Benes, will farm 30 acres using his normal nitrogen application practices, while the UNL plot will utilize different methods that will use less nitrates but produce similar yields, Fisher said.

The intent of the demonstration farm project is to share information with area farmers so they can learn how to use less nitrates, which will also reduce the amount that is leached into the groundwater, Fisher said. Nitrates appear naturally in soil, but excess amounts can appear in water sources after leaching into the soil from fertilizer of human or animal waste, according to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension Office. Nitrogen used as a nutrient for lawns, gardens and crop becomes nitrate through conversion by bacteria found in soil. Most plants absorb the nitrates, but because the compound is particularly soluble, over-irrigation or a large rainfall can push nitrates into groundwater.

The demonstration farm is the last piece in establishing the city’s drinking water protection plan, also known as the wellhead protection plan, Fisher said. In September, the council designated a Wellhead Protection Area, which is the area around a public water supply well or well field. The area was established based upon a delineation map published by the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality (now known as the Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy) in June 2019. JEO Consulting Group also worked on the project.

“A lot of work has been done to redefine where the wellhead protection area should be,” Fisher said.

Work began in 2018 to gather data for a comprehensive study on the level of nitrates found in Waverly’s groundwater.

In July of that year, an open house was held to provide information on the city’s Source Water Assessment and Drinking Water Protection Management Plan, which evaluates water quality and promotes groundwater protection in the Wellhead Protection Area to ensure a safe and sustainable water supply.

The public was told during the open house that the majority of wells tested were below the maximum amount of nitrates allowed in drinking water. Waverly’s nitrate range fell at about 3.48 to 8.47 mg/L. Even though the levels were in the safe area, the city wanted to be proactive to

prevent having to treat water in the future, the public was told.

In its first year, the demonstration farm will be funded by an EPA Section 319 matching grant in the amount of $15,000. The City of Waverly, Lower Platte South and UNL will provide $5,000 each in matching funds, Fisher said.

After the first year, the city will work with the state Department of Environment and Energy to obtain larger grants to continue the project for several more years, Mayor Mike Werner said during the meeting.

“That’s the whole purpose here,” he said.

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