NRD Hall of Fame Inductees Announced at Husker Harvest Days

NRD Hall of Fame Inductees Announced at Husker Harvest Days

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Four individuals honored for conservation work

LINCOLN, Neb. – During Husker Harvest Days Sept. 15, Nebraska’s Natural Resources Districts (NRDs) recognized four individuals, who will be inducted into the NRD Hall of Fame later this month.

“Nebraska’s Natural Resources Districts’ projects involve many dedicated individuals working to make the good life great,” said Jim Eschliman, president of the Nebraska Association of Resources Districts (NARD). “We’re proud to recognize these outstanding individuals for the significant improvements they’ve made to our natural resources, and the NRD Hall of Fame is one small way to thank them.”

Annually, Nebraska’s NRDs nominate and vote for individuals who have made significant contributions to improving the state’s natural resources. Hall of Fame categories include an NRD Director, NRD Employee and NRD Supporter. The NRD Supporter includes an individual outside the NRD system who has shown tremendous care and leadership in Nebraska’s ongoing conservation efforts.

Due to the pandemic, the NARD is recognizing both the 2020 and 2021 Hall of Fame inductees this year.

2021 NRD Hall of Fame inductees:

  • NRD Director – Ted Hughes, Neligh, Nebraska

2020 NRD Hall of Fame inductees:

  • NRD Director – W. Eugene Haarberg (deceased), Imperial, Nebraska
  • NRD Employee – Leon “Butch” Koehlmoos, Ord, Nebraska
  • NRD Supporter – Doug Bereuter, Alamo, California

Ted Hughes – NRD Director (2021 Inductee)

As a farmer in Antelope County, Hughes was interested in the environmental quality of his area. In 1986, he was appointed to the Upper Elkhorn NRD board to fill a vacancy, and in 1988 he was elected by his peers to the board. Hughes also served on the Nebraska Association of Resources Districts (NARD) board from 1998 until his retirement in December 2020.

“I’m honored to be nominated,” Hughes said. “The NRDs are entrusted with important work caring for our water quality and quantity and I think they do a great job managing that responsibility.”

Hughes is known for his ability to work with local, state and federal agencies. Some of these conservation partnerships include: enacting nitrogen studies in the Bazile Groundwater Management area, development of Atkinson State Lake and the studies of the Elkhorn-Loup Model to access water sustainability.

“Whether it is working with cooperators on land issues or water quality and quantity issues, Ted has promoted getting the most conservation rewards out of the fewest tax dollars needed,” said Upper Elkhorn General Manager Dennis Schueth.

While serving on the NARD board, Hughes played a vital role in developing the current risk pool insurance program. This has allowed the association to run a financially responsible program while providing health care to hundreds of NRD employees and keep premiums at a manageable level.

W. Eugene Haarberg – NRD Director (2020 Inductee)

Nominated by the Upper Republican NRD, Haarberg served on the board of directors since the District’s inception in 1972 until 2000. A lifelong Chase County farmer, Haarberg first served as representative of Class II cities working with the Nebraska Legislature to establish the framework for the NRDs including establishing the Groundwater Management and Protection Act that gives NRDs the authority to regulate groundwater.

“Gene’s NRD career is unique and noteworthy, because he was a key participant in the most substantial NRD developments,” said Jasper Fanning, Upper Republican NRD general manager. “He was adept at creating and implementing policy that helped set state and even national benchmarks for groundwater preservation.”

Under Haarberg’s leadership, the Upper Republican NRD established allocations, water metering and well-spacing requirements to conserve water. The decisions were not popular with everyone – at the time they were being implemented, the tires on Haarberg’s center pivot were slashed – but the opposition didn’t deter Haarberg or NRD staff and directors. When Haarberg left the board in 2000, the district’s groundwater allocation decreased by approximately 35 percent.

Haarberg practiced what he preached and was a state leader in the use of water-saving farming practices. Before the widespread use of center-pivot irrigation, he is believed to be the first farmer in Nebraska to use cablegation on flood-irrigated fields, which made it more efficient. In 1988, Haarberg was awarded the Omaha World-Herald Master Conservationist Award. Haarberg continued to stay apprised of NRD issues and activities and remained active in the Imperial community until his death in 2014.

Leon “Butch” Koehlmoos – NRD Employee (2020 Inductee)

Former general manager of the Lower Loup NRD, Koehlmoos retired in 2017 after 40 years with the NRD. During his tenure, Koehlmoos and his board of directors worked through many monumental water quality and quantity decisions.

“I appreciate the recognition, but it is about being part of a team and standing shoulder to shoulder to get conservation done,” said Koehlmoos. “In my 40-year career I had the support of many great board members and NRD staff that were dedicated to making Nebraska’s NRD system work.”

Under Koehlmoos’ management, Lower Loup NRD designated its first groundwater quality areas, and a study known as the Elkhorn-Loup Modeling Project sought to determine the effects on future groundwater development. This included process development for granting variances and certifying irrigated acres.

When the Lower Platte River Basin was designated as “fully appropriated,” Koehlmoos met the challenge. Thanks to solid data and testimony from a coalition of NRDs and partner agencies, the fully appropriated determination was reversed allowing for the continued use of groundwater in the district.

In 2009, Koehlmoos worked with the City of Columbus to recertify their levee. The Lower Loup NRD provided approximately $1.3 million to assist the city and protected most homes in Columbus from flooding.

“Because of Butch’s leadership, the district is able to maintain a balance between water use and water supply,” said Russ Callan, Lower Loup NRD general manager. “We are thankful for his work to protect groundwater, upgrade flood infrastructure and improve our local NRD recreation areas.”

Doug Bereuter – NRD Supporter (2020 Inductee)

Bereuter served the Nebraska Legislature from 1974-1978. He helped create a natural resources fund for special projects and make the NRDs the implementing agency for the Soil and Water Conservation Commission. He was a supporter of the legislation that created the NRDs in 1972.

“Rep. Bereuter is driven by service and a love for Nebraska,” said David Eigenberg, Upper Big Blue NRD general manager. “He has served Nebraska for decades and played a pivotal role in the inception of the NRD system.”

In the ensuing years, he helped strengthen the NRD system, which is now the envy of many other states due to its effectiveness at setting and enforcing policy. In 1978, Bereuter was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives and went on to serve 26 years in Congress, the longest serving congressman in Nebraska’s history.

“My admiration for one of Nebraska’s most unique and successful governmental innovations traces back to their creation,” said Bereuter. “I must admit to taking great pride in the diverse accomplishments of the NRDs across the state — projects of all sizes, small but important ones working with local landowners or communities and some big ones, too.”

Bereuter was instrumental in helping pass federal legislation that opened the door for receiving federal funding assistance through the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) that helped Lower Platte North NRD with the Sand Creek Restoration Project, which included Lake Wanahoo; wetland structures; and seven upstream dams above Lake Wanahoo. In his honor, the dam at Lake Wanahoo is named for Bereuter. The legislation also provided federal assistance for Lower Platte South NRD’s Antelope Valley Project and for the Western Sarpy/Clear Creek Levy Project, which was a partnership between Lower Platte North, Lower Platte South and Papio-Missouri River NRDs. 

Natural Resources Districts Hall of Fame inductees will be recognized at the annual NRD Conference dinner banquet in Kearney, Nebraska, Monday, Sept. 27.