Water is one of our most precious resources.

With floods, hurricanes, and droughts occurring more frequently, people are becoming more aware of the fragile planet we live on and taking action to lessen their environmental impact.

Urban agriculture has become a popular solution and positive tool that can be used to not only strengthen Lincoln’s economy but also to conserve our water. Community gardens help educate families on healthy eating, offer experiences to grow, and advocate for water conservation.

“Recognizing drainage issues with water supply issues is important. If you have a healthy amount of mulch, too much water isn’t helpful,” said Jimmy Bacon, former program coordinator at Community Crops. “We want biological activity going on in the dirt, the more that the soil has the capacity to store water and drain.”

He believes one of the best approaches to water conservation is to spread compost throughout the gardens because the organic materials are full of nutrients and make healthier soils that better conserve water and nutrients.

The idea is that, if people implement the use, they will set the stage for water conservation.

A family of gardeners stand for a portrait at the community garden on 1st and L in Lincoln, Nebraska. (Merika Andrade)

“I’ve been gardening for the last two seasons. And have learned quite a bit about soil, water conservation and how to water plant sufficiently,” said Goudhaman Jayaraman.

Goudhaman works for the State of Nebraska as a programmer and is the garden coordinator at the 1st and L location. He joined Community Crops after he moved from India four years ago.

It was his dream to become a farmer in India but was impossible due to water shortage and drought issues.

“There are so many organizers here trying to protect the streams and rivers, and they are very clean water collectively. But in India, it’s not really maintained and its more polluted,” said Goudhaman. “I think water conservation is really important. Maybe don’t try to conserve it just for your generation, think about six generations from now. They need water too.”

The 1st and L location began when Community Crops program coordinators went to TCW construction/Husker concrete and asked the President, Joe Delgado, if they could use his open land.

“Somebody contacted us when we tore the house down over here where community crops is when it was a bare piece of property,” said Delgado, “We just put a spigot off from our main water supply, and that allows them to water all their plants and its just kind of cool to drive by all the time and seeing them planting, cleaning out or harvesting the plants they are using.”

Delgado doesn’t charge the gardeners for using his water supply and said he understands how important it is for families to have access to healthy foods.

The Platte provides irrigation for agricultural.

But the high demands upstream from Lincoln’s water wells often doesn’t leave much water coming through the Platte in the summer.

The river flow is important to keep the aquifer full and the ability to run multiple wells.

Lincoln’s water comes from well fields in an aquifer along the Platte River but not from the river itself and then makes its way into the city where it supplies water to over 80,000 consumers daily.

With Lincoln growing at a steady 1% each year, so does its demand for food and water, and as Lincoln’s population increases so does the demand for water.

Lincoln’s water supply comes from well fields in an aquifer along the Platte River, but not directly out of the river itself. The drilling wells and building treatment facilities are located 30 miles north of Lincoln in Ashland, NE. 

In 2017, more than 12.3 billion gallons of water were pumped from the wells. The wells supply 280,369 people, who use an average of about 33.8 million gallons of water each day, said Lincoln Watering System.

Recently in March, the Lincoln Watering System installed a 1500-foot pipe 50 feet under the Platter River. The project will increase Lincoln’s water supply by 17% said, Steven Owen, Manager of Water Production for the Lincoln Water System.

When droughts occur, surface water is the first to diminish. If the drought is severe enough, much like the 2012 drought, then it begins to affect our groundwater resources, and we begin to see depletions in the groundwater levels across the state.

An image from a Platte Basin Timelapse camera at Audubon’s Rowe Sanctuary in 2013.

“2012 was our driest and hottest year on record. And so, we rapidly moved into the summer months into a pretty severe drought situation and so by the end of 2012 Nebraska, mostly statewide, was experiencing a very severe drought,” said Hayes.

Nebraska’s groundwater, streamflow, and reservoir levels were weakened, and the Platte River was at its lowest. Mandatory water regulations were made, and Nebraska’s agriculture suffered.

“Currently, we are worried about the drought conditions just south and southwest of Nebraska,” said Michael Hayes, a climatologist at the National Drought Mitigation Center. “Whether they’ll move into the state or not, we don’t know…but at the moment I think we are doing fine regarding our drought condition here in the state. We just need to keep watching and be diligent.”

Droughts are unpredictable, and with climate uncertainties, we could be seeing more droughts more frequently.

Although we cannot stop a drought, there are many things we can do on a personal level to help conserve our resources to better prepare for the future.

We can do this through recycling, being mindful of our energy usages, carpooling and valuing local foods. Purchasing sustainably grown local foods may not only help reduce your greenhouse gas emissions and conserve water but strengthen the local economy.


Merika Andrade is a former student and production intern of PBT. She graduated from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln with a major in Journalism Spring 2018.

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