Daugherty Water for Food Global Institute


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Policy Report 1 of the Robert B. Daugherty Water for Food Institute


In 1972 the State of Nebraska created the Natural Resources Districts (NRDs) to consolidate a multitude of single-purpose local natural resource districts into a more comprehensive, holistic, and efficient natural resources governance system. While consolidation and efficiency was important, so was the concept of maintaining local control. Thus, Nebraska rejected the governance framework of a single top-down state agency, preferring to create NRDs that are each governed by a locally elected board. The locally elected governing boards of the NRDs were given broad authorities over many of the state’s natural resources, including groundwater. Such a governance structure was, and to a large extent still is, experimental and unique. Giving the authority to manage and regulate groundwater to locally elected boards was not an insignificant decision. Today 85% of Nebraska’s irrigated acres are irrigated with groundwater. The state has more irrigated acres than any other state in the United States and, by far, the most irrigated acres per capita in the world. Has this experiment been successful? Is this governance system robust? Will Nebraska’s NRDs be able to meet the challenges of the future, including the uncertainties of climate change? This report tries to provide some answers to these questions.