Olsson Associates

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With a little help from my friends

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Sarah Ferdico, Communications

Olsson designed the Lower Platte North NRD’s Lake Wanahoo Dam, which is the key component of its Sand Creek Watershed Environmental Restoration.In California, historic water restrictions legislation has severely limited the amount of water residents may use, meaning, in some instances, California homeowners are heavily fined if they are caught overwatering their yards.

And with little water available in some regions of Texas, some farmers are left with little choice but to let their crops wither, taking massive hits on their profits.

But across much of Nebraska, farmers, municipalities, businesses, and residents can enjoy an abundant supply of water thanks to a fortuitous combination of being located on top of a productive part of the High Plains Aquifer and through the sustainable water management regulations put in place by the state’s 23 Natural Resources Districts (NRDs).

Nebraska’s water management through NRDs is unique because Nebraska’s groundwater is managed by NRDs instead of by one state agency. Other differences include the NRDs’ abilities to tax constituents to pay for local water conservation projects, and they allow for anyone who is eligible for public office to serve on their board of directors. This is different than most states that restrict board memberships to certain water users (e.g., farmers or irrigators).

Olsson Associates’ Water Resources team has helped many of these NRDs understand their surface and groundwater resources better, and also helped NRDs make good policy decisions.

"NRDs work for the public, so it is vital that this work is done properly and to the highest of standards," said Rick Wozniak, water resources manager for the Lower Elkhorn NRD. "Consultants provide NRDs [and, therefore, the public] with advice, products, and creative solutions that are technically sound and legally defensible."

NRDs also look to consultants like Olsson to support their engineering and scientific evaluations, which help them define how they should best manage their water.

“As with all NRDs, we are not able to staff experts on all of the various disciplines,” said John Miyoshi, general manager for the Lower Platte North NRD. “When assistance is needed in engineering, water issues, geology, or hydrology, we often turn to consultants for assistance.

“Often, our needs are not of a single nature, so we tend to look at firms that staff multiple disciplines that can cover a broad array of scientific expertise that can meet our needs,” John continued. “We also use consultants to balance our staffing needs when a large project requires short-term personnel, or when outside, non-biased information is needed. Often, a fresh look at an old problem can bring a quick resolution.”

Marlin Petermann, assistant general manager of the Papio-Missouri River NRD, echoed John’s thoughts on working with consultants. Further, he said consultants help greatly in facilitating cooperation among numerous parties.

“The NRDs do a lot of coordination and collaboration between different entities, whether they be government agencies, private landowners, or other communities,” Marlin said. “I think consultants really help bring all of us together.”

Karen Griffin facilitates an integrated water management plan stakeholder meeting for the Lower Elkhorn NRD earlier this year.One team member, Technical Leader Karen Griffin, has helped numerous NRDs craft their groundwater and integrated water management plans.

“In Nebraska, like many places, groundwater is very site specific,” Karen said. “Quantity and quality can change dramatically and very quickly. To understand that in depth, it takes a lot of work. So the NRDs hire us to help map out their aquifers so they can develop their regulations to suit their specific water supply and water quality issues.”

Team Leader Brian Dunnigan is in the unique position of managing the issue from a statewide perspective. The former director of the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources (NDNR) joined Olsson in December 2014. While with the NDNR, Brian viewed consultants as individuals who bring the engineering “horsepower” to do the necessary technical studies, project proposals, and engineering design for the projects that benefit local NRDs and ultimately the state.

“Consultants are heavily utilized at the state and local NRD level,” Brian said. “Consultants understand the overarching state policy related to water resources, and they come up with innovative ideas that address the issues at hand.”

Technical Leader Carter Hubbard’s resume of work with NRDs spans the spectrum of water management projects. Carter remarked that Olsson is able to help NRDs manage water in an environment where managing the water has become a broader, more all-encompassing task.

“Where we used to design a dam for flood control, we now design a dam that prevents flooding and retimes flows in the watershed (in that it holds back spring runoff and releases it slowly over the dry summer months),” Carter said. “The dam also provides a water supply reservoir, recharges groundwater, provides habitat for plants and animals, provides recreational opportunities, and retains runoff from smaller storms in order to drop out pollutants.”

“We bring the right blend of technical expertise including surface water, groundwater, environmental, geotechnical, and construction services to them to complete their projects,” Carter continued. “The NRDs have been very forward thinking in protecting our most precious resource, and we help them shape and implement the projects that provide that protection.”

Senior Engineer Kevin Prior has worked over the years primarily with the Central Platte NRD. Kevin said there are many ways that Olsson’s expertise will continue to benefit Nebraska’s NRDs.

“I think the NRDs’ focus for the future lies in managing water efficiently and effectively [as in, multiple uses within a project],” Kevin said. “The relationship between groundwater and surface water will continue to be a management issue, because of the Endangered Species Act and other compacts. There will be a desire to construct dams, but environmental roadblocks will continue to make it difficult.”

What nature has provided, Nebraska’s NRDs—with Olsson’s help—have protected and successfully managed.

Brian summed it up this way: “Consultants have developed strong, trusting relationships with NRDs and state agencies that deal with water, which results in great solutions to water issues that benefit all Nebraskans.”

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