Lower Loup Natural Resources District mapping project

A Lower Loup Natural Resources District mapping project to better understand subsurface geology and aquifers in northern Buffalo County will involve a low-altitude helicopter towing a large hexagonal frame. Current plans are to start the multi-day project on Oct. 6.

ORD — Northern Buffalo County residents may notice an unusual sight in the skies starting Oct. 6 when a low-altitude helicopter towing a large hexagonal frame flies over.

The unique equipment is part of a Lower Loup Natural Resources District project to map groundwater aquifers and subsurface geology within the NRD, which includes northern Buffalo County, most of Custer County and all of Sherman County in Hub Territory.

LLNRD directors were updated on the project at Thursday’s board meeting at LLNRD headquarters in Ord.

LLNRD Information and Education Coordinator Larry Schultz said the mapping will be done by a Nebraska company, but the specially trained helicopter pilots are coming from Europe.

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Although the first flights may be in the Ravenna area, the specific schedule for the multi-day project will depend on several factors, Schultz said, with the greatest being weather conditions. “They’re aware of weather for sure,” he added, especially high winds or lightning that would make flying particularly dangerous.

The data collection process was described in an LLNRD press release.

Instruments mounted below the helicopter will collect and record geologic measurements related to buried sand and gravel aquifers.

The LLNRD planned the flights with supplemental sponsorship from the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources.

LLNRD Water Modeling Coordinator Cam Conrad said data from the flights will improve understanding of the available groundwater resource and potential groundwater-surface water connections.

Aqua Geo Frameworks, LLC is overseeing the flights, processing the data and information, and will produce a final report. Conrad said the technology used allows for fast — upwards of 50 mph — data acquisition to 600 feet below the land surface.

The scientific equipment is towed approximately 100 feet below the helicopter in a “spider web” array and is designed to map geologic structures beneath the earth. Conrad said the helicopter pilots are experienced and specially trained for low-level flying with the equipment.

The Federal Aviation Administration doesn’t allow such equipment to be flown over any feeding operations or residences, so feedlots and homes are avoided.

LLNRD Assistant General Manger Tylr Naprstek told the Hub the equipment also will not be flown over people in cars that are in the path of the mapping grid. He added that the company takes video throughout the process to confirm the flight paths and conditions.

The data collection is part

of LLNRD’s ongoing program to identify physical occurrences such as changes in geologic materials and sediment types.

Naprstek said most landowners in the region to be mapped have received postcards with information about the project.

For more information, contact Conrad at 308-728-3221 or cconrad@llnrd.org.

In other board meeting business Thursday, the directors approved having the LLNRD staff to seek proposals from engineering firms for a comprehensive study of drainage and flooding issues in Sargent.

Schultz said Sargent officials have worked on those issues a little bit, but contacted the LLNRD to “start the effort again and look at all potential options, rather than just work with one company.”

He explained that the town has no underground storm water system, so the streets serve as canals during heavy rains.

In other business, the board:

- Appointed Todd Nitsch of Boelus to fill the Subdistrict 3 — parts of Buffalo, Custer and Sherman counties — vacancy following the resignation of longtime director James Nelson of Boelus. Nitsch will serve the remaining year of Nelson’s term and the seat comes up for election in 2020 for a four-year term.

- Set the fiscal year 2020 levy at approximately 3.6 cents per $100 valuation, compared to 2.9 cents for the past fiscal year.

In the budget approved last month, property taxes were set at $5,853,609.54 for FY2020, compared to $4,914,861.16 in FY2019. LLRND General Manager Russell Callan told the Hub in August that the tax increase mostly reflects work on projects in the aftermath of flooding, including partnerships with other entities and assistance to municipalities.

- Approved seeking proposals to update the LLNRD Groundwater Management Plan.