Conservation Timeline


Early Conservation


Native Americans settled on the North Platte River

The 1830s – 1860s

Pioneers moving west followed along the river

The 1870s

Land agents started selling land that was adjacent to railroad lines.  The agents knew of the groundwater underneath Central Nebraska and used it as a way to get people to buy the land.  Windmills were used to pump the water to the surface. 

The early 1880s

Settlers started to settle along the North Platte River

Natural Resources Timeline


First irrigation district created


Federal Reclamation Act was passed.


Reclamation Service began studying the North Platte Project

  • Drainage Districts created
  • Construction on Pathfinder Dam and Interstate Canal started.

Construction was completed on Pathfinder and interstate canal and construction began on the Fort Laramie canal. 


Construction on the Northport Canal started


All canal construction was done around 2000 miles.  June 1, construction on Guernsey Dam was started.


Construction was completed on Guernsey Dam


Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), originally known as Soil Conservation Service was created by Congress.


Soil Conservation District was created by Congress (changed to Soil and Water Conservation Districts in the late 1950s) to assist farmers who were hit hard by drought.  

NRD Timeline


Interim Legislative Council Study Committee studied the problem of the multiplicity of special purpose districts.  Found that Nebraska had 172 special purpose water districts.

The 1950s


The great flood of 1952 on Missouri caused massive amounts of damage to property in many states, including Nebraska.


The Watershed Conservancy District Act passed.

  • Watershed Districts created. 
  • Gering Valley Watershed project begins.

The 1960s


September of 1966:  Resolution #18 was passed at the 26th Annual Conference of the Nebraska Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts at Kearney.  The resolution called for a reorganization of Soil and Water Conservation Districts along with hydrologic units rather than county lines.  It also called for the districts to be “sufficient size to facilitate economy of operation and effectiveness of purpose”, have the tools to carry out “comprehensive programs of land and water development”, and for the districts to be locally governed.[1]     

Late 1960’s

Watershed Planning Boards, Advisory Watershed Improvement Boards, Reclamation Districts, Mosquito abatement Districts, Public Power Irrigation Districts, Sanitary Improvement Districts, and Sanitary Drainage Districts.  Over 500 different resource-related special purpose districts created.[2]

  • Rural Water Districts created
  • September 1967:  Resolution #2 was passed to have studies done in time for the next Association Conference to be able to start the legislative process to reorganize the different districts. Governor Norbert Tiemann, speaking at the Conference, came out in support for the reorganization.[3]

The State Association passed Resolution 25, 57 for and 42 against, calling for legislation be passed that would “reorganize and consolidate soil and water conservation districts, watershed conservancy districts, watershed planning boards, and watershed districts along hydrologic lines where possible, and other special-purpose soils and water resource districts be encouraged to join in such reorganization.”[4] 

  • April 1st, 1969:  After revision and amendment, L.B. 1357 was finally introduced.  The bill was introduced by Senators Maurice A. Kremer of Aurora, C. F. Moulton of Omaha, George Syas of Omaha, and Herb Nore of Genoa. 
  • September 18, 1969:  L. B. #1357 was passed by a vote of 29 to 9, with 11 not voting. 

Preparations were made for the reorganization of the different districts. 

The 1970s

  • June 6, 1972:  A lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the NRDs was brought before the Lancaster County District Court by the Richardson County Soil and Water Conservation District and two landowners.  (Both who were directors of watershed conservancy districts.) 
  • June 29, 1972:  District Court Judge William Hastings rejected an injunction that would have prevented the NRDs from opening their doors, but told the NRD’s not to use any of the resources or assets of the 154 special purpose districts that were being combined into the NRDs. 
  • July 1, 1972:  The first Natural Resources Districts to be created in the United States went into operation. The Nebraska Soil and Water Conservation Commission changed their name to the Nebraska Natural Resources Commission, and the Nebraska Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts became the Nebraska Association of Resources Districts to reflect the reorganization.
  • Ron Cacek named the manager of North Platte NRD.
  • July 1973:  The Lancaster County District Court ruled that the NRD law was, for the most part, constitutional.
  • April 18, 1974:  The Nebraska Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of Nebraska’s Natural Resources District system. 
  • November 5, 1974:  First election of directors.
  • January 9, 1975:  Directors took office.
  • Groundwater Management Act, which gives Nebraska’s NRDs the authority over groundwater.

South Gering Drain project begins.

  • South City Drain completed.
  • Groundwater supply is strained in the Pumpkin Creek area.
  • NPNRD agreed to study the problem of groundwater declines in Pumpkin Creek after it received a petition from about 35 landowners

The 1980s


Lover’s Leap Project, a flood control project, near Harrisburg and the Lewellen Drain Project gets approval from the NPNRD board.

  • The last leg of planning starts for the Gering Valley Watershed, which was started in 1959.
  • NPNRD Board begins laying the groundwork for developing a state-mandated groundwater management plan. 
  • More than 75,000 trees have been sold to date. 

The NPNRD board directors voted to support a department of Water Resources objection to the building of the Deer Creek project near Casper Wyoming, which would hold back water that would flow down the North Platte River. 

  • NPNRD Board approves the district’s first groundwater management plan. 
  • Nebraska Sediment and Erosion Control Act were passed.
  • Chemigation Act was passed.

NRD board to oppose the shallow burial of radioactive waste because it could contaminate groundwater or surface water.

  • The district has sold 160,000 trees to date.  100,000 were planted by NRD employees.
  • NPNRD hires its first water scientist.

A new wildlife habitat improvement plan is available to help landowners create new habitat or enhance existing habitat.  The plan was a joint effort between the NPNRD and the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

The 1990s


An education program was planned for farmers and other Garden county residents because of a worsening nitrate problem in the county’s groundwater. 


In a joint effort with U.S. Geological Survey, the NPNRD board approves a two-year $170,000 study of groundwater quality throughout the North Platte Valley.  It was the most extensive groundwater study done in the North Platte Valley, and the second of its kind in the state. 

  • The NPNRD received a grant that helped fund groundwater quality management programs for Garden County.
  • NPNRD institutes a program to cap abandoned wells. 

The state approves NPNRD’s updated groundwater management plan, the third in the state. 

  • Nebraska’s NRCS aligned its organizational structure to the NRD’s creating 23 administrative areas with one NRCS District Conservationist per NRD. 
  • NPNRD receives an increase in its allocation for the Nebraska Soil and Water Conservation Program, which would provide almost $152,000 to pass on to farmers to help with water and soil conservation.
  • Nebraska Legislature passes LB 108, which restructures the Ground Water Management and Protection Act for integrated management of ground and surface water. 
  • The first time Nebraska law recognizes the connection between surface and groundwater.
  • The four districts in the Republican River ask the Nebraska Department of Water Resources if there are any disputes between surface and groundwater users. 
  • July 10, the NPNRD’s Ground Water Management Area takes effect.  Permits are required for new wells that are larger than 50 gallons per minute or larger.
  • Study to examine the nitrates levels near Morrill, and it examines the relationship between alluvial aquifer that supplies water for household use, irrigation, livestock, and industry in the valley.  It also examines the relationship between surface and groundwater.
  • Five Garden County residents were appointed as an advisory committee to recommend how the NRD should respond to the nitrate levels in the area. 

Harrisburg Water System is constructed.

The 2000s


A moratorium was placed on the drilling of new wells in the Pumpkin Creek Sub-area, which was the first on the Platte River system.

  • A moratorium was placed on the drilling of new wells in the rest of the NRD.
  • All groundwater uses in the Pumpkin Creek Basin Sub-area were certified.

An allocation was placed on the use of groundwater in the Pumpkin Creek Sub-area.


Legislature passes LB 962


Pumpkin Creek Basin Sub-area groundwater irrigation allocation is reduced to 14 acre-inches per water year. 

  • Approximately 2,500 irrigated acres were permanently retired in the Pumpkin Creek Basin Sub-area through the conservation easement. 
  • Rules and regulations were adopted for the certification of all groundwater use in the District and for the installation of flow meters in the over appropriated portion of the district. 
  • Allocation for all groundwater irrigation use in the over appropriated area of the District is set at 18 inches per acre per water year, beginning with Water Year 2009. 
  • NRD helps form the Panhandle No-Till Partnership
  • The groundwater irrigation allocation for the Pumpkin Creek Basin Sub-area was reduced to 12 acre-inches per acre per water year. 
  • April 10, 2008:  The High Plains Weed Management Association was formed to combat evasive species.
  • May 5-7, 2009: The first-ever Invasive Species Control Summit was held in Gering. 
  • September 2009: Integrated Management Plan is finished.

The 2010s

  • An integrated Management Plan is implemented for the NPNRD. 
  • The groundwater irrigation allocation is set at 56 acre-inches per acre for the allocation period of Water Year 2010 through 2013. 
  • The District temporarily retired 8,347 irrigated acres.
  • Dam H diversion, a part of the Gering Valley Drain project, is completed.
  • The groundwater irrigation allocation is set at 36 acre-inches per acre for the allocation period of Water Year 2012-2015. 
  • Yensen Drain is completed, completing the Gering Valley Drain project that was started over 50 years ago. 


  • [1] Jenkins, Hazel, “A History of Nebraska’s Natural Resources Districts”, p. 2. 
  • [2] Jenkins, p. 1. 
  • [3] Jenkins, p. 3.
  • [4] Jenkins, p. 3.