Flatwater Free Press hosts public forum on nitrates in Nebraska's water
NORFOLK, Neb. -- Stakeholders from across northeast Nebraska came together for a forum on Tuesday night on a statewide issue.
Flatwater Free Press hosted the event at Northeast Community College in Norfolk, during which a panel and audience members discussed nitrates in Nebraska's water.
The panel featured five people who have seen nitrates create different impacts in communities.
Yanqi Xu, a reporter for the Flatwater Free Press, wrote four articles detailing how different people and communities have been impacted by nitrates.
"Nitrates are tasteless, it's odorless. A lot of times you can't see it but it's there," she said. "Six-thousand wells that were most recently tested had a nitrate level above the EPA limit."
In her articles, Xu discovered that higher nitrate levels lead to different medical problems including Colorectal Cancer, Blue Baby Syndrome, and Pediatric Cancer.
Dr. Jesse Bell, a professor at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, explained why the latest efforts into nitrate levels across the state are important for Nebraskans.
"Nebraska has one of the highest rates of pediatric cancer in the United States, especially in the central part of the United States. Do we know exactly why that is? No, we don't know all the reasons," he said. "That's why we are trying to do research to better understand some of these relationships, to understand where are the places we are most concerned about, and how do we do things to reduce the risk."
Robert Noonan, an agriculture professor at Northeast, explained how nitrate levels are tested.
He said Nebraska has higher nitrate levels in different areas of the state.
"We test for nitrate levels all the way from the surface to the top of the groundwater level," Noonan said. "We look at what is there and we are finding there is quite a bit."
One way nitrates have affected groundwater in Nebraska is through manure.
Randy Hughes, a farmer, said that soil tests are another great way of tracking nitrates.
"I can guarantee you any producer that is over-applying manure, it's going to show up in their soil," he said. "If you make them take soil tests, you can't hide."
To cap off the panel event, Mike Sousek, the general manager of the Lower Elkhorn Resources District, said that educating the public and hosting open forums is the best way to keep this issue in the public eye and help find solutions to it.
"Having conversations like this, educating everyone on what the issue is, and as we go through our day-to-day operations keeping this issue on the forefront," he said. "Whether it's the policies that governments are developing or regulations they are proposing, in the end, how is this going to affect water quality?"