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What You Should Know About The Nebraska Sandhills

What You Should Know About The Nebraska Sandhills

With the seven year-long debate over TransCanada’s Keystone XL Pipeline making international headlines, the Nebraska Sandhills have found themselves an increasingly contentious topic of conversation. Even though the project was rejected last year by President Obama, the National Natural Landmark continues to face down potential development projects.

Earlier this year, plans for a $361 million transmission line project that would cross the Sandhills region were started by surveyors from the Nebraska Public Power District (NPPD). The NPPD is citing Nebraska Revised Statute § 76-702 to justify entering private property in the proposed path of their project. Domina Law Group pc llo, who worked with landowners and concerned groups during their fight against the Keystone XL Pipeline, is once again representing landowners fighting against the NPPD’s proposed project.

What makes the Nebraska Sandhills so important that the President of the United States would reject a multi-billion dollar pipeline in order to protect them, and what makes them so important that landowners would want to fight against the NPPD’s proposed project?

Spanning nearly 33,000 acres, the Nebraska Sandhills are the largest sand dunes complex in the Western Hemisphere. Unlike other large dunes around the world, these are almost completely stabilized by vegetation, and are also home to thousands of ponds and lakes, making the Sandhills the largest and most intricate wetland ecosystem in the U.S.

Those thousands of ponds and lakes aren’t the only sources of water present in the Nebraska Sandhills. One of the world’s largest aquifers, the Ogallala Aquifer, is located beneath the Great Plains and is replenished by many of those other water sources. The shallow water table aquifer supplies drinking water to an estimated 82% of the 2.3 million people living in the High Plains area according to a 1990 census, and also provides around 30 percent of all groundwater used for irrigation across the U.S., supporting an estimated $20 billion in agriculture.

The presence of the Ogallala Aquifer was a major issue cited in the Keystone XL Pipeline debate. During an independent analysis conducted by Dr. John Stansbury, a professor at the University of Nebraska, he estimated that nearly two major spills could occur along the length of the pipeline every year. In his report, Stansbury claimed that:

"The worst-case site for such a spill is in the Sandhills region of Nebraska. The Sandhills are ancient sand dunes that have been stabilized by grasses. Because of their very permeable geology, nearly 100 percent of the annual rainfall infiltrates to a very shallow aquifer, often less than 20 feet below the surface.”

If such a spill occurred, he estimated that 4.9 billion gallons of water in the aquifer could be contaminated by crude oil. Such an event could decimate the environment and economy of the entire region and have a significant impact on the U.S.’s economy as a whole as well.

Despite the massive reserves of water in the area, attempts at farming in the late 1800s proved unsuccessful due to the fragility of the sandy soil and has led to minimal development of the area. Since then, some cropland agriculture has been developed through the use of center-pivot irrigation systems that utilize water from the Ogallala Aquifer. Even with the increase in successful farms, the Sandhills are also a successful cattle ranching area that supports more than 530,000 beef cattle. Even with the increased use of the Sandhills for agriculture and cattle ranching, the biodiversity of the area has been preserved, and the majority of the land has remained a habitat for over a thousand plant and animal species.

With the current fight over landowner’s rights against the NPPD’s proposed transmission line project, the future of this National Natural Landmark remains in question. Domina Law Group pc llo remains committed to fighting for the rights of landowners. If you own land in the Nebraska Sandhills that is in the proposed path of the NPPD’s project and oppose its development, contact us today to speak with one of our attorneys.

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