COLUMBUS, Neb. — The Lower Elkhorn Natural Resources District is taking a high-tech look at groundwater levels in Colfax County.

The NRD is paying $200,000 to study the groundwater under approximately 36 square miles in the Clarkson and Howells areas, where problems surfaced during last year's drought.

Water Resources Manager Rick Wozniak said the municipal water supply in Clarkson was “dangerously close” to running dry last year and the NRD received several reports of irrigation and residential wells with low water levels.

But, Wozniak added, little could be done to address the problems, because insufficient geologic information exists for that area.

“The Elkhorn River basin continues to be a difficult system to completely understand,” Wozniak said. “The recent drought conditions in the (resources district) have shown that the area around Clarkson has severe water supply problems that cannot be understood without more data.”

Exploration Resources International LLC of Vicksburg, Miss., will oversee the study, which involves low-level helicopter flights. The flights are expected to start today and last a couple of days. During that time, a helicopter will fly 100 to 300 feet above the northern Colfax County area, scanning the ground with instruments that can “see” hundreds of feet below the surface.

Data collected during the flights will be used by Exploration Resources to create a three-dimensional map of the area that includes the locations and sizes of groundwater aquifers.

Wozniak said the map should be completed by late December or early January. A University of Nebraska-Lincoln hydro-geologist can then use the data to determine where testing wells need to be installed to monitor groundwater levels.

Ultimately, Wozniak said, the NRD wants to create a water budget for the area to determine whether the current usage level there is sustainable.

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