Community and Regional Planning Program


Date of this Version



A professional project

Presented to the Faculty of the Community & Regional Planning Program at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln for the Degree of Master of Community and Regional Planning Professional

Project Advisory Committee: Professor Zhenghong Tang; Professor Rodrigo Cantarero; Professor Mark Burbach

Client: Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality: Ryan Chapman, Water Quality Section; Supervisor David Miesbach, Groundwater Unit; Supervisor Sam Capps, Wellhead Protection Program Coordinator

Lincoln, Nebraska December, 2015


Before regulations were introduced to protect the general public from waterborne illnesses, it was common for people to become sick and even die from contaminated drinking water. Many rivers and streams in the United States were so polluted that they were uninhabitable for wildlife and dangerous to human health. The pollution and contamination in the surface and groundwater caused a public out-cry for the government to step in and do something about the hazardous water conditions. As the U.S. government started regulating surface water, it realized that the main source of drinking water for half of the U.S. and 95% of rural communities came from groundwater; this realization contributed to the creation of the wellhead protection program (WHP) (EPA, 1990). The WHP program requires every state to develop a program to help protect Public Water Systems (PWS). In Nebraska, 85% of people rely on groundwater for drinking water, making it crucial for the state to protect it from contaminants, particularly nitrate, Nebraska’s number one contaminant.

This document focuses on contaminant source management options for Wellhead Protection and what communities can do to help protect themselves from rising nitrate contamination issues. Examples are provided for where communities can find financial assistance and learn about best management practices to help lower nitrate levels. This document also identifies some of the barriers and motivators that a community, public water systems operators, and Natural Resources Districts (NRDs) run into when implementing a WHP plan.

A survey was also conducted during this research to help compare where Nebraska stands with its WHP program and contamination issues. The survey was distributed to all 50 states, and had 30 respondents that discussed their respective contamination issues, how they encourage public involvement, if they have had any success stories of reducing their contamination problems, and if they have any cost benefit analysis data to illustrate that preventing contamination is much less expensive than cleaning it up.

Finally, there will be a discussion about some of the barriers and motivators that can contribute to how people make decisions and why, in some instances, people are more willing to prepare for natural and manmade disasters while other times they do not properly consider and prepare for the severity of the situation. In Nebraska, for the state to be proactive and to reduce hazardous situations, it is up to the communities, NRDs, consultants, NDEQ, and the EPA to work together and to help one another. When working with WHP plans, the end goal for everybody should be that the communities can take care of themselves with little or no help.

Professional Project Advisory Committee:
Professor Zhenghong Tang
Professor Rodrigo Cantarero
Professor Mark Burbach