NebraskaELI State Wetland Protection Status, Trends, & Model Approaches
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Original Wetland Acreage Remaining Wetland Acreage Acreage Lost % Lost
2,910,500 1,905,500 1,005,000 -35%

Nebraska wetlands consist of palustrine (85 percent), lacustrine (13 percent), and riverine (2 percent).

(Please click on heading below to go to that section.)

Summary Features Regulation Water Quality Standards Mitigation Monitoring and Assessment Restoration Public/Private Partnerships





Overall Program:

The state does not explicitly regulate wetlands under a wetland protection statute but exercises a fair amount of control pursuant to a Section 401 Water Quality Certification Program. 

Innovative Features and New Programs/Initiatives:

An Advanced Identification Project for the Rainwater Basin was completed in December 1992. This project covered all or portions of 19 counties. An interagency technical group has completed fieldwork for a draft Hydrogeomorphic (HGM) Model for the Rainwater Basin. 

State Wetland Conservation Plan

The Nebraska Wetland Conservation Plan process produced the publication “Nebraska Wetland Resources: A Summary of the Issues Involving Conservation of Nebraska’s Wetlands” (1998).

No Net Loss/Net Gain Goal

No explicit official goal; however, antidegradation language of Surface Water Quality Standards implies “no net loss” and thus mitigation is required as part of Section 401 certification. 



Wetland Regulatory Statutes and Administrative Rules

None. However, the State regulates floodway areas. Neb. Rev. Stat. ## 2-1506 to 2-1507.

The Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) is authorized to administer all provisions of the Federal Clean Water Act (CWA) by the Nebraska Environmental Protection Act (Section 81-1501 to 81-1533)

Wetland Definition and/or Delineation; Comparability With Federal Definition

A definition consistent with the federal definition is included in Nebraska’s Surface Water Quality Standards.  In addition the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) delineation procedures are referenced as the procedures to be used in delineation of wetlands.

Evaluation Methodology

HGM methodology is being used to develop a draft HGM Model for the Rainwater Basin. Data collection is completed and the draft Model is in development. 
Extremely preliminary fieldwork (one one-day data collecting foray for reference sites in northeast Nebraska) was conducted for a Riparian HGM Model; that activity has stalled in recent years.
Wetlands outside the Rainwater Basin are evaluated using the Cowardin Classification System, both impact sites and mitigation/mitigation banking sites.

Regulated and Exempted Activities

Discharge of pollutants (including fill) is partially regulated under Section 401.  Quantitative allocation of water is regulated by another agency without interference by DEQ.  Upland soil and water conservation practices or normal farming practices involving tilling, seeding, cultivation, harvesting, and grazing for the production of food, fiber, and forest products (similar to the Corps’ Ag. Exemption) are exempt from our Water Quality Standards to the extent that they shall not be considered to cause significant degradation of biological integrity in wetlands.

Special Provisions for Agriculture and Forestry

See “Regulated and Exempted Activities” above. 

Penalties and Enforcement

Violations of Nebraska Environmental Protection Act carry (Water Quality Standards) penalties of not more than $5,000 per day of violation or imprisonment for not more than six months in the county jail. The court shall consider the size of the operation and the degree and extent of pollution in assessing the penalty. 
DEQ relies on the Corps for enforcement of 404 permits; however DEQ conducts the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System program.

Permit Tracking

DEQ has a database called SW401 into which the basic data form each 404 permit is entered. The data is stored on the State Mainframe computer.

State General Permit (PGP or SPGP) for 404

There are 11 general permits regulating activities within the boundaries of Nebraska.

Assumption of Section 404 Powers

Assumption was explored in 1982 and rejected (in part) due to cost. 

Joint Permitting

Section 404 permitting is under the authority of the Corps; however, close coordination exists between Corps, DEQ, Nebraska Game & Parks Commission (NGPC), U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), and USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).

Special Area Management Plans and Advanced Identification Plans

Yes. The Rainwater Basin Advanced identification Project was completed in December 1992. An interagency comprehensive planning effort is underway in the Lincoln metropolitan area.  Also a Special Area Management Plan-like project has been conducted for the Eastern Saline Wetlands of Lancaster and Saunders Counties. Products were: Resource Characterization of Nebraska’s Eastern Saline Wetlands with associated digitized maps (1994) and Mitigation Guidelines for Nebraska’s Eastern Saline Wetlands (1997).

Role of Local Governments

Zoning for development is the responsibility of local governments. In addition, the local Natural Resources Districts have broad regulatory authority, including regulation of wetlands if they choose to do so.

Staffing (Regulatory Staff)

DEQ has currently dedicated approximately 0.05 FTE directed to interagency coordination. Approximately 0.5 FTE is also dedicated to the Sec. 401 Water Quality Certification program. (These FTE portions cover all of the rest of the programs and activities listed for DEQ below.) 

Water Quality Standards

Wetlands and Water Quality Standards

The state has adopted a 401 certification program; and applies an antidegradation policy to wetlands. Protected uses have been designated for wetlands. DEQ certifies 404 permits and has adopted regulations for administration of Section 401 (Title120) and water quality standards for all surface waters including wetlands (Title 117).

Wetland Definition

A definition consistent with the federal definition is included in Nebraska's Surface Water Quality Standards.

Designated Uses

Beneficial uses assigned to all wetlands are: Aquatic Life, Wildlife, Agricultural Water Supply, and Aesthetics. Some wetlands may have additional beneficial uses assigned.

Narrative and/or Numeric Criteria

Assigned beneficial uses are protected by the narrative and numerical water quality criteria listed in Chapter 7 of Title 117 - Nebraska Surface Water Quality Standards.

Antidegradation Policy

Assigned and existing beneficial uses are protected by the Antidegradation Clause in Title 117.


State Water Quality Standards apply to all natural wetlands and all artificial wetlands (except for wetlands constructed for the purpose of wastewater treatment, wastewater retention, or irrigation reuse). Numerical criteria which rely on water in order to be measured are not applicable during periods when water is not present.

Staffing (Wetland Water Quality Staff)

For the entire Water Quality Standards program, 0.5 FTE has been assigned. 


Mitigation Policy

Re-creation of wetlands, on site and off site mitigation, and habitat enhancement are required pursuant to Section 401 certification.

Mitigation Banks

Nebraska Department of Roads:

12 approved banks
4 pending approval
Two private banks have approved instruments and have been constructed.
Two municipal banks have approved instruments; one has been constructed and the other is under construction.
One Natural Resource District is in the process of Instrument review by the Nebraska Mitigation Banking Review Team.
The Nebraska Mitigation Banking Review Team is nearing completion of the Mitigation Banking SOP for the state.

In Lieu Fee Program


Ad Hoc Arrangements


Mitigation Database


Staffing (Mitigation Staff)

See “Staffing” under Regulation above. 

Monitoring and Assessment

Mapping /Inventory

All of Nebraska, except sixty-four 7.5’ quadrangles (the southwest corner of the state), has been mapped by the National Wetlands Inventory. Most of these mapped quadrangles are available digitally in Arc Export format.  Other localized wetland maps have been prepared by the NGPC and the Universities of Nebraska at Lincoln and Omaha.

Wetland Classification and Assessment

Wetlands are classified in Nebraska’s Water Quality Standards as either surface-water overflow wetlands (exhibiting a surface water connection to an adjacent stream or lake on a regular or periodic basis) and isolated wetlands.

Overall Wetland Gain and Loss Tracking System


Staffing (Monitoring and Assessment Staff.)

During the past five years the state has undertaken traditional wetland water quality monitoring to establish baseline data; this is completed and none is anticipated in the near future. 


Program Description

The NGPC’s Wetland Initiative Program was started in 1992.  This program was incorporated into a broader private lands program termed Wild Nebraska in 2000.  Wild Nebraska has a number of wetland practices and will pay for conducting wetland restoration, enhancement, creation, and management on private lands.  Wild Nebraska currently has over 10,000 wetland acres enrolled.

Restoration Program Goals

Wild Nebraska has no specific wetland acreage goal.  The following priorities were established:
PRIORITY 1 - Wetland Restoration:

1a) Full Hydrologic Restoration- Activities that restore hydrology to an area that historically was a wetland but has been drained to the extent that none of the area is currently a wetland.
1b) Partial Hydrologic Restoration- Activities that restore hydrology to an area that historically was a wetland but has been partially drained to extent that only some of the area is currently a wetland.
1c) Vegetative Restoration- Activities that restore natural plant communities on areas not hydrologically modified, but where the natural vegetation has been substantially altered. 

PRIORITY 2 - Wetland Vegetation Management and Maintenance: 

Activities intended to improve or maintain existing desirable vegetation.

PRIORITY 3 - Wetland Enhancement:   

Activities that alter the physical characteristics of an existing wetland to achieve specific social benefits without restoring the natural ecological functions (e.g., island construction, altering a seasonal wetland to make it a semi-permanent wetland).

PRIORITY 4 - Wetland Creation: 

Activities that establish a wetland where one did not previously exist.

Eligibility Criteria

All private lands are potentially eligible.  The program structure recognizes that wetland restoration and management projects are often complex and require expertise in biology, engineering, hydrology, and soils.  Because of this, it is recommended that wetland projects be designed by an interdisciplinary team with the required expertise.  In order to ensure consistency of program delivery statewide for these complex projects, concurrence of the NGPC Habitat Partner Section District Manager will be required for all wetland projects.  Projects exceeding $5,000 will need to be reviewed/approved by the Wetland Program Manager and/or the Section’s Assistant Wildlife Division Administrator.

Wild Nebraska funds cannot be used to assist with wetland mitigation or other activities required by law.

Restoration Database

A spreadsheet is maintained that tracks the location, date, landowner, cost, and acres enrolled.  We are currently working with Ducks Unlimited to develop a much more comprehensive project tracking database that will be web-based and have a GIS component.

Staffing (Wetland Restoration Program Staff.)

NGPC has one full-time Wetland Program Manager and one full-time Wetland Biologist.  To implement our private lands program (including both upland and wetland projects) we have 10 full-time district staff.  In addition, we have partnership positions with Ducks Unlimited, Pheasants Forever, NRCS, and the FWS to work on private lands projects. 

Public/Private Partnerships

Acquisition Program

The NGPC spends about $1 million annually on land acquisition.  Wetlands are a priority within our land acquisition program.  In addition, this money is matched nearly equally with grant funds from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Federal Aid Program, the North American Wetland Conservation Act, the Nebraska Environmental Trust (state lottery money), Ducks Unlimited, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and other partners.  

Public Outreach/Education

The NGPC recently received a $120,000 grant to produce educational publications, videos, and a website about Nebraska wetlands.  The project is currently being implemented. 

Tax Incentives


Technical Assistance

NGPC wetland staff spends a great deal of time working with private landowners and our other partners to provide technical assistance on wetlands. 

Other Nonregulatory Incentives for Private Landowners

Nebraska has worked hard to create a variety of partnerships to deliver wetland conservation “on the ground.”  Two of the most successful partnerships are the Rainwater Basin Joint Venture and the Sandhills Task Force.

Wetland Training and Education

DEQ staff training is ongoing as funding is available.  

At NGPC, training in wetland restoration and management is offered nearly every year to our wetland partners.  In addition, federal partners have periodically offered training in wetland delineation and plant identification.

Watershed Planning

Some of our partnership projects such as the Rainwater Basin Joint Venture and the Sandhills Task Force are organized on a landscape region level based on wetland type. 

Special Problems

Continued loss of wetlands despite efforts of Section 404, 401 (Ag. & urban development).
Lack of unified state policy for wetlands & ability to regulate non-fill activities.  
Lack of legislative action after the SWANCC decision (January 9, 2001). Until the time that legislation is enacted DEQ is without a permitting mechanism for SWANCC wetlands, therefore we provide project review and opinion letters, stating whether a project as proposed is likely to violate Title 117, to those project proponents who consult us on the matter. As of this writing (Jan. ’02) there have been no Title 117 violations reported to DEQ concerning SWANCC wetlands. 


Developed during the Rainwater Basin ADID work in the late 1980’s, an interagency working group with representatives from DEQ, NGPC, EPA, Corps, FWS, and NRCS has met on a quarterly schedule to discuss Nebraska’s CWA Section 404 issues. Coordination and communication has been sustained, and sub-sets of this group have formed task forces or ongoing committees for such activities as Mitigation Banking Review Team work, the Eastern Nebraska Saline Wetlands Assessment project, and the Rainwater Basin HGM Model development project.

Contact Person(s)

John F. Bender
Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality
P.O. Box 98922, State House Station
Lincoln, NE 68509 8922
(402) 471-4201  
Ted LaGrange
Nebraska Game and Parks Commission
P.O. Box 30370, 2200 N. 33rd Street
Lincoln, NE 68503
(402) 471-5436 
Patrick W. Rice
Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality
State House Station
P.O. Box 94877
Lincoln, NE 68509-4877
(402) 471-2186

Contact Points

Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality Field Offices:

Guidebooks, Brochures, Websites, Other Educational Materials

Farrar, J. The Rainwater Basin...Nebraska's Vanishing Wetlands. Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, Lincoln, NE.

Farrar, J. and R. Gersib.  Nebraska Salt Marshes: Last of the Least.  Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, Lincoln, NE.

LaGrange, T.G.  1997.  A Guide to Nebraska’s Wetlands and Their Conservation Needs.  Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, Lincoln, Neb.  37 pp. 

State of Nebraska Home Page:

Legislative Page:
Nebraska Game and Parks Commission: 
Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality: 
401 Certification: