Date of this Version
Water has always been an important resource to rural Nebraska. This resource has become more scarce during the last few years amid a continuing drought throughout many counties of the state. Do rural Nebraskans feel the drought is over in their area? What priority do they place on various uses of water? Do they feel the quality or quantity of their household water supply has changed during the past ten years? If so, what has affected it?
This report details 2,915 responses to the 2004 Nebraska Rural Poll, the ninth annual effort to understand rural Nebraskans’ perceptions. Respondents were asked a series of questions about water issues. For all questions, comparisons are made among different respondent subgroups, i.e., comparisons by age, occupation, region, etc. Based on these analyses, some key findings emerged:
• Many rural Nebraskans expect the drought will continue in their area for one or two more years. Thirty-nine percent think the drought will continue for one or two more years, while 12 percent believe it has probably ended in their area. Another twelve percent expect the drought will last for three to five more years while four percent expect it to last for more than five years. Thirty-three percent don’t know how long the drought will continue in their area.
• Persons living in the Southeast and Northeast regions of the state are more likely than persons living in other regions of the state to believe the drought has probably ended in their area. Nineteen percent of the residents from the Southeast region and 17 percent from the Northeast region say the drought has probably ended in their area. However, only six percent of the persons living in the Panhandle and North Central regions share this opinion.
• Almost one-half of the farmers and ranchers expect the drought to continue in their area for one or two more years. Forty-seven percent of the farmers and ranchers have this expectation, compared to only 33 percent of the manual laborers.
• Rural Nebraskans rate indoor residential and agricultural uses as the highest priorities for water use. The proportions rating each of the following uses as high priority include: indoor use in existing homes (72%), use for livestock (drinking and waste management) (48%), irrigation of agricultural and horticultural crops (46%) and indoor use in new housing developments (34%). Uses receiving low proportions of high priority responses include: swimming pools for individual homes (2%), watering golf courses (3%), and transferring water to other states for their use (5%).
• Residents of the Southeast region are less likely than residents of other regions of the state to rate livestock use and irrigation of crops as high priority uses of water. As an example, 55 percent of the South Central residents rate irrigation of crops as a high priority use, compared to only 32 percent of the Southeast residents.
• Almost one-third (31%) of rural Nebraskans believe the quality of their water supply has deteriorated during the past ten years. Fifty-six percent say their water quality has not deteriorated during the past decade and 13 percent don’t know.
• Over one-third of those who believe their water quality has deteriorated during the past ten years say that agricultural chemicals have impacted their water quality to a great extent. The proportions that believe the following factors have impacted their water quality to a great extent include: agricultural chemicals (39%), chemicals used in lawns and landscaping (22%), livestock waste (21%), business and industry waste (20%) and naturally occurring contamination (10%).
• Panhandle residents are more likely than persons living in other regions of the state to say their water quality has deteriorated during the past ten years. Thirty-seven percent of the Panhandle residents believe their water quality has worsened during the past decade, compared to only 22 percent of the North Central residents.
• Over one-half of rural Nebraskans expect the quality of their water supply to either improve or remain the same during the next ten years. Twelve percent expect the quality will improve either slightly or significantly while 43 percent say it will remain the same as it is now. Twenty-two percent believe it will deteriorate slightly, but remain safe for drinking or other household uses and eight percent think their water quality will deteriorate to a potentially unsafe level. Fifteen percent don’t know what to expect.
• Most rural Nebraskans don’t think the quantity or amount of water available for their domestic use has been reduced during the past ten years. Seventy-six percent don’t believe the amount of their water has been reduced, 15 percent say the amount of water available to them has been reduced and nine percent don’t know.
• For those who believe the amount of water available for their domestic use has been reduced, the most common culprits named are cyclical weather patterns and irrigation use. Forty-three percent of the persons who say the amount of water available to them has declined during the past decade think that cyclical weather patterns have impacted this to a great extent while 39 percent say that irrigation use has impacted their water quantity to a great extent.
• Panhandle residents are more likely than residents of other regions to say the amount of water available to them has been reduced during the past ten years. Twenty-eight percent of the Panhandle residents say their water quantity has been reduced, compared to only nine percent of the residents living in the North Central region.