The Lower Platte North NRD began operation on July 1, 1972. The Lower Platte North and 23 (now 22) other NRDs replaced more than 150 special purpose districts, including county soil and water conservation districts and watershed boards.
A New Approach
The NRD system was created by LB 1357 in the 1969 Unicameral session. The far-sighted sponsors of LB1357 (Maurice Kremer of Aurora, C.F. Moulton of Omaha, George Syas of Omaha, and Herb Nore of Genoa) knew that Nebraska's approach to conservation had become muddled by all of the special purpose districts, which suffered from funding problems and overlapping authority. They wanted to establish multipurpose districts that could deal with a broad range of natural resources issues.
Laying the Groundwork
After the passage of LB1357, the senators spent three years working with the existing conservation districts and other interested parties to hammer out the details of the new system. Realizing that natural resources issues didn't respect artificial political boundaries such as county lines, they decided to take an innovative approach. NRDs would be based on the major river basins in the state, but still governed by locally-elected boards of directors. This approach combined the flexibility of local government with a broader watershed approach to conservation. NRDs were also given the authority to collect property taxes, which helped alleviate the funding difficulties that plagued the earlier special purpose districts.
Last Minute Challenge
The NRD concept proved somewhat controversial, and had to survive a last-minute court challenge before the 1972 lauch date. However, the Nebraska Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the NRD legislation, and the districts were officially formed on July 1.
A Unique System
At first, most NRDs simply continued programs begun by the previous soil and water conservation districts: primarily tree planting, flood control, and land treatment. Gradually, though, NRDs evolved into the multipurpose districts envisioned by their founders, becoming involved in groundwater management, outdoor recreation, and other programs. Today, Nebraska's unique system of locally-controlled, tax-funded, watershed-based conservation is widely admired throughout the nation.