The Rainwater Basin Joint Venture (RWBJV), an affiliated fund of Nebraska Community Foundation, received funding for five grants totaling $958,700 from Nebraska Environmental Trust (NET) in 2019. Together, the grants benefit farmers, ranchers, wildlife, wetlands and grasslands, as well as the Ogallala Aquifer. For instance, Western Basin Restorations: Improving Waterfowl Habitat, Recharging the Aquifer, and Improving Water Quality received $420,000, for a multi-agency effort to restore 1,565 acres of playa wetlands at five Waterfowl Production Areas. The grant, along with leveraged funding, will provide habitat for migratory birds and sustainable water for irrigation for farmers, improve drinking water for area residents, and contribute to in-stream flow targets for the Platte River System.
Another grant that will provide benefits to farmers is Happy Cows; Happy Wetlands, designed to integrate wetlands into farm operations while maximizing habitat for birds. It received a grant of $111,650 to provide financial assistance to continue the RWBJV Working Lands Initiative. Grant and partner funds will be leveraged with landowner contributions to install grazing infrastructure, such as fencing and livestock watering systems, so that cattle producers throughout the Rainwater Basin can incorporate wetlands into agricultural operations.
The previously mentioned projects received first-year funding (with potential for second- and third-year funding); the other three grants were awarded consecutive-year funding. Similar to the first two, these grants benefit both working lands and habitat for wildlife and native plants. The Rainwater Basin Watershed Restoration Initiative received $105,000 for the second year in a row to fill 21 additional abandoned irrigation reuse pits in the watersheds of public or private wetlands enrolled in conservation programs. Doing so provides more water to wetlands, increases farmable acres, and helps to recharge the Ogallala Aquifer.
To continue for a third year, the Wetlands Reserve Enhancement Partnership Special Initiative grant was awarded $158,550. This will be leveraged with other funding sources to restore 300 acres of wetlands and associated uplands, to modify pivot irrigation systems to eliminate impacts to the restored wetlands, and to establish grazing infrastructure to transition the restored wetlands into producers’ operations. Nebraska’s three largest pivot manufacturers—Lindsay, Reinke, and Valmont—have signed on as corporate partners, committing themselves to providing technical assistance and financial assistance through a cost-share program for pivot modifications.
Finally, the Loup River Prescribed Fire Training Exchange grant received $163,500 to assist in compensating landowners for resting their grass prior to a prescribed fire, which increases the ecological effectiveness of the fires, and for fulfilling fire line equipment needs. NET funding allows the program to offer incentives for private landowners who are already burning to increase the size and impact of their prescribed fires. It is anticipated that a total of 13,000 acres of targeted prescribed fire will be delivered over the two years.