You probably already know that Nebraska is the only state in the U.S. that has a nonpartisan, unicameral legislature, and is the only state where all electrical companies are publicly owned. Nebraska is also noted for having more irrigated crop and pasture land than any other state in the U.S. The state had more than 8.2 million acres in 2012, and in 2014, Nebraska had more irrigated land than all but a dozen countries in the world. In fact, Nebraska’s farms and ranches utilize 45.3 million acres– 92 percent of the state’s total land area. But, did you know that Nebraska’s natural resource districts (NRDs), which govern most of Nebraska’s natural resources, particularly groundwater, are also unique? How did this concept evolve? What were the conditions that allowed it to be implemented? And, who were the people who had the insight, courage and leadership to get Nebraska to adopt such a unique experiment in resource governance?
The story of the establishment of the NRDs is a study of how strong, courageous and cooperative leadership resulted in a major change in the ways Nebraska is governed. It also provides an example of the kinds of actions Nebraska will have to emulate in the future if we are to meet the challenges of increased demands for water and of climate change. Here is that story, as told through the words of people, including three of the authors, who were key participants in the creation of the NRDs. Most of the quotation are from the interviews from the NRD Oral History Project. The story also relies heavily on an unpublished article by Hazel Jenkins, who was intimately involved with the formation and early implementation of the NRD governance system.
Read the full article written by Ann Bleed, Jim Barr, Dayle Willamson and Gayle Starr in the 2016 winter issue of Nebraska History