Update: This transcript has been updated to reflect the current AP Stylebook guidelines.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: You’re listening to “KZUM News” on 89.3 KZUM Lincoln and KZUM HD.
[Fades in on the “KZUM News” program music, an original production of Jack Rodenburg. The music fades out.]
Amantha Dickman, News Director: Good afternoon and welcome to today’s edition of “KZUM News,” an hour dedicated to learning more about what is going on in Lincoln and the surrounding areas. I am the News Director, and your host, Amantha Dickman.
Grant Ferrell, News Intern: And I’m your co-host, Grant Ferrell.
Today, I have a sad segment to kick us off. We all wish it wasn’t true, but the Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department has announced that the Covid-19 Risk Dial is moving from elevated yellow to low orange.
I’d like to take this moment to remind you that the risk dial is a color-coded system where green represents the lowest risk of transmission and red is the highest risk of transmission. We have spent the last four weeks at elevated-yellow, with a moderate risk of transmission. However, experts have noticed an increase in both cases and hospitalization rates. Wastewater surveillance has also shown a 105% increase in particles compared to the previous week. The factors contributed to the decision to elevate to orange status.
Here with us now is Director Patricia Lopez, with more information.
Patricia Lopez, Director of the Lincoln-Lancaster County Health: Good afternoon and welcome to this community briefing on our ongoing pandemic response efforts.
We’re back today because our data is showing changes in our local situation. We’re seeing heightened spread of Covid-19 in our community, driven by BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron variants. Let’s take a look at the most recent data. The first chart you’re looking at shows our weekly cases in correlation to where our risk style has been each week.
As you can see, we’ve had a steady increase in weekly cases since the beginning of May, when there were 301 cases. Now, two months later, cases have more than doubled at 671 cases for the last week ending July. Cases increased over the last week in almost all age groups in a few long-term care facilities and assisted living are also experiencing outbreaks.
Wastewater data is also showing a significant increase. Analysis over the past three weeks shows us virus particles have more than doubled. Wastewater testing is considered a leading indicator, meaning it precedes changes we may see in cases in hospitalizations. This supports the expected increases after a large number of gatherings over the recent holiday weekend and with more people traveling over the summer.
The positivity rate is also increasing at the end of last week. It was 22.2%. The seven-day rolling average of hospitalizations increased towards the end of May but was holding steady in June at an average of about 30 Covid-19 patients per day. Since the beginning of July, daily numbers again have been increasing and today 47 patients with Covid-19 are hospitalized pushing the seven-day rolling average of hospitalized Covid-19 patients up to 39. This is the highest daily average since early March.
With these changes to our local situation and Covid-19 increasing in our community, the risk dial, which has been in yellow since May 10, is now moving to low orange. The dial has not been in orange since the week of February 23.
Orange indicates the risk of the virus spreading in the community is high. That means we are more likely to come into contact with someone who has the virus. So here are some precautions we can take: stay up to date on your Covid-19 vaccinations, which includes getting a booster as soon as you’re eligible. When you’re unable to distance yourself from others, wear masks, both indoors and in crowded outdoor settings. Wear a mask if you have symptoms, have a positive test, or have been exposed to someone with the virus. Get tested or self-test if you have symptoms or have been exposed to someone with the virus, and most of all, please stay home. If you’re sick, if you test positive, ask your healthcare provider about treatments that may be available to you. If you’re over 65 or if you have a medical condition that puts you at higher risk for severe Covid-19, talk to your healthcare provider about taking additional protective actions. These public health recommendations are included in the guidance for orange, which is now posted on the covid19.lincoln.ne.gov website.
I wanna stress that if you have Covid-19, it’s important to stay home for at least five days. You can end isolation after five days or on day six. If you are fever free for 24 hours and your other symptoms have improved, you should continue to wear a mask around others for five additional days. You can find isolation guidance at our website covid19.lincoln.ne.gov.
Following this guidance helps prevent potential spread to others. A reminder that at-home tests are available at the health department in the main lobby on weekdays during regular business hours. We’re located at 3131 O St. Walk in and pick up one. Test kits are also available at all Lincoln City Library locations.
If you know you have the virus, you can take appropriate steps to limit the spread and protect others. We encourage people to report their home test results to us. A short form is available on our Covid-19 website, in the testing section.
I also wanna share a brief update on our vaccination efforts for younger children. Children under five can now receive Covid-19 vaccines and benefit from the protection it provides.
You can find dates and locations on our Covid-19 website. Safe and effective vaccines can better protect children and adults from severe illness from Covid-19 and hospitalizations. The vaccine is now available to everyone from young children to older adults. You can find the latest public health guidance at our website, just below the risk dial.
We’ll keep monitoring the situation closely and its impact on our community. If we continue to see significant changes, we’ll be back with another briefing to help keep everyone informed. Remember to get vaccinated and get your boosters and wear a mask. Thank you.
Grant Ferrell, News Intern: You just heard from Director Patricia Lopez on the elevation to orange status on the risk dial and what to expect with this rise in Covid-19 cases. And, hopefully, this is a temporary setback and we will be back to green status in no time.
Next up, Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird announced that the city of Lincoln is beginning efforts to identify and secure a secondary water source to account for Lincoln’s long-term water needs.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: For those of you who don’t remember or didn’t live in Nebraska at the time, 2019 was the year that Nebraska experienced immense flooding. At the time, Lincoln’s main water source was inundated with flood waters. This led to growing concerns regarding contamination of the water or even that the source would need to temporarily close down.
On June 28, Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird announced that Lincoln is making plans to counteract any future growth or natural disasters; the City of Lincoln will begin by conducting a comprehensive study to determine how to proceed. Then, under the advisement of the newly formed Mayor’s Water Source Advisory Council, the City will work to identify and secure a secondary water source to accommodate Lincoln’s growing population.
We joined Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird at the June 28 press conference to learn more.
Leirion Gaylor Baird, Mayor of Lincoln: Thank you all for joining us here today at the Lincoln Water Systems Facility. We are so grateful to so many elected leaders and leaders from across our community, uh, who are here today. Your vision and your voices are vital to accomplish what we begin on this early summer morning.
As we gather next to our city’s present source of water, I’m thrilled to announce my administration’s commitment to secure water needed to support future generations of Lincolnites, an effort we are calling “Water 2.0: Securing Lincoln’s Second Source.’ This effort will be the largest and singularly most important public works project for Lincoln’s growth, health, and vitality into the future.
Identifying and securing a second source of water will strengthen our economic and environmental resilience for decades to come. Decades when Lincoln will need more water to deliver our high quality of life to a growing number of residents, a Lincoln anticipated to grow by 115,000 people by the year 2050. In a community who will live within the extremes of a changed climate and who will inhabit a future when the exceptional drought of 2012 could become the norm. And while current projections and plans indicate that Lincoln has adequate water supply for the next 26 years, we must begin planning now to share the prosperity we inherited with those who follow.
So why now? Because this project will take decades. Because this project will span generations in terms of its service. And because this project, the first of which we are calling the “Lincoln Water System Alternatives Analysis” led by engineering firm Olson, who’s here with us today. Uh, this analysis will determine the best solution for Lincoln’s long-term water needs and help us navigate complex design, construction, financial, legal, and governance options.
We anticipate the first this first phase of this analysis, the recommendation of a preferred alternative for Lincoln’s next water supply to conclude early next year. And to complement this effort, we tapped a second source of support in the form of the Mayor’s Water Source Advisory Council. This diverse and broad group of business and community leaders will serve as project sponsors, providing input and recommendations critical to the successful outcomes of this project.
I’m very pleased to announce that longtime water advocate, Susan Seacrest has agreed to serve as chair of the Mayor’s Water Source Advisory Council.
Susan is an educator and the founder and former president of the Nebraska Groundwater Foundation. And Susan has also served in many federal and state environmental and water protection roles. And she was recently appointed to fill of vacancy on the board of the Lower Plath South Natural Resources District. Among her many awards is recognition by time magazine, as a hero for the planet.
Susan Seacrest, Chair of the Mayor’s Water Source Advisory Council: Thank you, mayor.
Boy, somebody did some research. I have to say very impressive but thank you for that kind of introduction. It is so exciting to be here with all of you today because what we’re really doing is we are launching a public health project written on the largest possible canvas. So, I couldn’t be more excited to be part of this effort.
This really does follow a long line, as the mayor alluded to, of visionary leadership in our city. Uh, always looking forward, not looking backward, but looking forward to new generations and their health and wellbeing. So, what is our challenge? It’s a big one; a safe and ample drinking water for all of our citizens. But we’re gonna be able to get it done because of the great council that we have assembled here.
Uh, the mayor has worked hard with the staff of the Lincoln Utility and Transportation Department to get Lincoln’s diversity, talent, expertise, and passion for public service. Lincolnites have this and I think will work very well together. We have a legacy to protect here, a legacy of care for our shared stories, for our children and youth, our natural resources, and the need to really rely on expertise, technology, science, and the ability to move forward.
Ask anyone here today, what they value most and I’m gonna guess that many of it would be the health of our family and the future, the future people to come after us. I am a mother who cared about Lincoln’s water and started a small organization that grew and grew. I think that is the same analogy for our work here today. We’re starting today and with our water in mind, and our efforts are going to grow and grow well into the future.
Thank you very much
Leirion Gaylor Baird, Mayor of Lincoln: Yet another well of support is the Nebraska legislature, specifically our Lincoln delegation, and they worked hard to support the Second Water Source project through the legislative session and will continue to be champions for us to help secure funding for the design, construction, and implementation of water, transport infrastructure in the future.
State Senator Anna Wishart and Senator Eliot Bostar were instrumental in steering our request for state funding. And the city’s next step is to apply to the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources to request 20 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding that they helped designate for that purpose. Senator Wishart, who is with us today, has agreed to serve on the advisory council. And Senator Bostar will serve as vice chair of the council. And these state senators literally carried the water for Lincoln this legislative session, and our community is so fortunate to have their leadership on the state floor. And, at this time, I’d now like to invite up to for a few comments, state Senator Eliot Bostar,
Eliot Bostar, State Legislative Senator: You know, water is something that we all absolutely rely on and is essential for our own health, our survival, and the growth of our community.
Yet it’s also something that we all easily take for granted. Um, we notice when it isn’t there and we notice when there are challenges. And thankfully that is very rare. So, I do want to specifically thank LTU, the water team, and everyone that works tirelessly to ensure that we have the water we need in our community.
And that’s what brings us here today, is the future of our community will require more water. It will require more diversification in the sourcing of our water. Our climate is changing and I don’t think that there’s any disagreement on that. As the mayor mentioned, just recently we’ve had severe weather events that have demonstrated that our current system is fragile and we need to prepare for the future.
So, as we look to the future and we plan for acquiring a second source of water, I’m certainly proud to be a part of that process. During this legislative session, in anticipation of the federal ARPA allocation of money to the state of Nebraska, the mayor myself, and Senator Anna Wishart all spoke at length about what we can do from the state perspective to help this process here for the city of Lincoln.
And I am really proud that we were able to secure the opportunity for Lincoln to receive 20 million for the development and evaluation of a second source of water for Lincoln. It’s imperative that our community has access to abundant, clean water and I’m honored to serve as the vice chair of this council.
And I look forward to working with all of its members and working with the city, largely in the community to ensure that our children and our grandchildren will be able to thrive in our community for generations to come with access to water. So, thank you all very much.
Leirion Gaylor Baird, Mayor of Lincoln: Thank you so much, Senator Bostar. Through your and Senator Wishart’s leadership this past session, Lincoln’s pipe dream is becoming a pipe reality.
As we move forward, we are so pleased to have the expertise of Elizabeth Elliott, our director of the Lincoln Department of Transportation and Utilities. She is serving as the city lead on this effort and Director Elliott is with us today. She’s here to say a few words,
Elizabeth Elliott, Director of the Department of Transportation and Utilities: Lincoln Transportation and Utilities leads the way in providing essential services to our community that improve our quality of lives, dating all the way back to the 1930s, when our water system significantly expanded.
Our city has shown resiliency through each water supply development effort.
As more people call Lincoln home, these moments from the past have paved our future. Managing a growing city’s water quantity and water quality year-round takes resourcefulness and heart. There are no days off when it comes to supplying the Earth’s most desired natural resources to our community. You’ll find for our team, it’s worth it. Our team members guarantee adequate water supply every day. Water conservation, plumbing and innovations technology, regulations, and general awareness all play positive roles that contribute to the success of our growing system. But it’s not just our team who makes a difference.
The community contributes significantly. Lincoln water customers use 34% less water today than we did in the 1980s. In the last 10 years, Lincoln Water System has also built additional wells to increase our summer capacity by more than 30%. Our team at Lincoln Transportation and Utilities is meeting water demands at the present time and we’re ready and standing by to make sure our water future is secure.
We have two potentially viable options that the Mayor’s Water Source Advisory Council will research, review, and ultimately provide a recommendation on the best option to pursue. A final project plan will be available in 2023.
Lincoln Water System has a long history of delivering safe, clean, and high-quality drinking water to the city. We take to heart our responsibility for the health and well-being of everyone who calls Lincoln home. The alternatives analysis represents our steadfast commitment to sound policy, best practices, and the modern engineering principles to inform our decisions about the future of our water supply for Lincoln.
I’m looking forward to working with Susan and Senator Bostar and all of the members of the Mayor’s Water Source Advisory Council. Now is the time to secure our second water source. Thank you.
Leirion Gaylor Baird, Mayor of Lincoln: Uh, we are also joined today by two members of our Lincoln City Council, who will serve on the Water Advisory Council. And that’s Richard Meginnis and Tom Beckius, two people who I consider friends and partners in our city service.
They understand the importance of encouraging new ideas and innovative approaches to our water challenges.
I wanna thank them both for being here and ask them both to provide some remarks and to share their perspectives on this really historic undertaking. Councilman Meginnis, why don’t we start with you?
Richard Meginnis, Lincoln City Councilor: I wanna thank the mayor and Lincoln Transportation Director, Liz Elliott, and Heather, and mostly the staff for the Lincoln water. I’ve always been very proud of our Lincoln water. We have visitors that come to, you know, come visit all the time and I’m always saying, taste our water. It’s the best. And they agree.
So, in beginning this massive effort to select a plan for a second water source for a community. Not only a second water source as a path for our future generations, but it also enhances opportunities for Lincoln to grow. And Tom and I like it when Lincoln is able to grow.
Growing up in Lincoln, I’m gonna take a short story and make it long. And Tom knows how much I like to talk about what used to be in town and how we were growing up. But my father had always taught myself and my brothers, the value of water at an early age. My dad would take us down to the water plant at 29th and A. While it was actually a water and a power plant because it also powered the street lights at that time.
Well, he showed us the water plant and he walked us through on Sunday mornings and I, nobody seemed to be working on Sunday mornings, always wondered how my dad got us in. Well, I found out at later time, my grandfather was the architect of the building and he knew, uh, where there was a back door, how to get into the building.
So instead of me having to go to church, which was great, I was able to go to her, the Lincoln water. And I was always amazed at how that system worked and all the water and the filtration, but together we can, uh, still work on fast forward to adulthood.
My good friend and mentor past Lincoln city, Councilman Joe… he said that passing a bond to expand the Lincoln water system in the late seventies was his biggest accomplishment. This effort has stuck with me for many years, and now as city Councilman myself and a member of the Mayor’s Water Source Advisory Council, it’s our turn to offer input and help lay the foundation for second water supply.
This effort will directly impact Lincoln’s long-term growth and growth in the surrounding areas. Beginning this effort now- well, maybe I’ll be around… I don’t know. I’m the old man on the council – will ensure future generations to receive the same high-quality water that we enjoy now.
Thank you, mayor.
Tom Beckius, Lincoln City Councilor: Following Richard Meginnis is always a tough chore.
Good morning everyone. Thank you, mayor. Thank you, Liz. I look forward to working with Susan and Elliott and all of you on the advisory committee to develop and plan Lincoln’s newest water source.
Securing the second water source is a challenging task. That’ll take a lot of different members of our community, but it’ll also take a lot of innovation, a lot of careful planning, and a lot of determination and grit. I’m proud to be a member of this group because it’s gonna serve as the public’s voice throughout this process and, and making sure that that process is full and complete and thorough and involves the entirety of our community.
Through my professional career, not just as a city Councilman but as a business person, I’ve had the great fortune to work with Lincoln’s Water Resources and experience the economic power that this resource brings to a community. This essential resource is a priority, not only of mine, but I know of a lot of Lincolnites and a lot of businesses, as well, in our community. And it’s essential.
This review of the technical and engineering process that we’re gonna be going through over the coming months and years will be vital to make sure that Lincoln continues to be prosperous and successful for not only us sitting here, not in a room but standing outside here today, but for generations beyond us as well.
So, I look forward to working with all of you, and thank you again for your time and commitment to making sure that this process is fruitful and successful. Thank you.
Leirion Gaylor Baird, Mayor of Lincoln: Well, thank you so much, council members. We appreciate your leadership and service and look forward to working with you and thank you for your service on the Water Advisory Council.
We know that securing a second source of water for Lincoln will also have a ripple effect on Lancaster County. So, we have gratitude to offer to the the county board as well. And to Commissioner Sean Flowerday, for being a part of the council. He knows just as well as anyone, how important it is to have a safe and sufficient water supply to help us grow as a community.
And so here to share more about how the county will benefit is Commissioner Sean Flowerday.
Sean Flowerday, Lancaster County Commissioner: Each one of those puns getting worse.
I’d like to thank Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird, and the whole LTU team, as well as our friends in the state legislature, Senator Bostar and Senator Wishart, who have made these efforts possible.
Lincoln and Lancaster County offer an enhanced quality of life like no other. Life’s good in our community. We have education opportunities, economic growth, and a family-friendly lifestyle. Our most essential needs are taken care of right in our home. Today I joined the Water Source Advisory Council, a public advisory group, where I have the honor of representing Lancaster County as our community begins as historic journey to secure a second water source.
The project is important, not just to the city of Lincoln, but to so many more. Lancaster County, nearby towns, villages, rural Nebraska, and surrounding areas, and counties all have the potential to see economic and water security benefits from this project. Lancaster County is proud to be a partner in this.
We’re proud to walk arm and arm with the city of Lincoln and our state partners as we move forward to listen, to learn, and to advise. Thank you so much.
Leirion Gaylor Baird, Mayor of Lincoln: So, again, I wanna thank all of the leaders who have joined us as part of this Mayor’s Water Source Advisory Council. Thank you for your commitment to this historic undertaking.
Thank you to Olson for your work. And ongoing thanks to our city team, who performs such vital public service day in and day out. Good. Okay. We have a lot of work to do. We’re gonna get to it.
Thank you so much.
Grant Ferrell, News Intern: You just heard from Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird about Lincoln’s plans to secure a secondary water source to accommodate Lincoln’s growing population and prepare for any future potential flooding.
Now we have your regularly scheduled break. But don’t change to another channel because we have more of the Humanities Nebraska event “Weathering Uncertainty: Conversations about Climate in Nebraska.”
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Amantha Dickman, News Director: And welcome back to “KZUM News.” The last few weeks we have dug in deep listening to that Humanities Nebraska “Weathering
Uncertainty: Conversations about Climate in Nebraska” event.
Just a reminder for you, if you forgot, the event had a fantastic panel lineup. Joining Martha Schulski, a Nebraska state climatologist and the moderator of the event, is Mark McHargue, the president of Nebraska Farm Bureau. Next on the panel is Hannah Birge, the director of agriculture for the Nature Conservancy-Nebraska. Lastly, we have Josh Moennings, mayor of Norfolk, and Jesse Bell, the director of Water, Climate, and Health programs at UNMC.
Now that you’ve had that reminder, let’s get started on today’s segment.
Martha Shulski, Humanities Nebraska Moderator: It it’s real. And it’s here now and the changes are only gonna get worse.
So, solving these legacy issues, you know. The goal is to get it solved because it’s only going to amplify due to climate change. So, um, for the audience’s awareness, if you hadn’t noticed, you can like certain questions that are there, so you can kind of up its priority on the screen there.
So, let’s see one that takes top priority: it is related to agriculture. So, it’s such a strong tie here in the state.
What type of agriculture products or crops should we be planning to move towards for what Nebraska’s climate and growing season look like in 30 years, which is a great question.
For part of my job, I travel around the state and, and help maintain and fix weather stations. And just looking at the landscape of Nebraska, we’ve got the Sandhills, we’ve got road crop agriculture. And, you know, when my kids are my age what does the landscape of Nebraska look like? And what can it look like?
And that can be a tough question to think about, but, um, just in an agricultural sense, what is, what is viable?
Mark McHargue, President of the Nebraska Farm Bureau: A great question, because I think as we talk about climate change, there’s a lot of conversations about the growing season moving north.
Is that a good thing? Is that a bad thing? And I think going back to Josh, you talked about looking at the opportunities, I think, within Nebraska because we do have this water resource that is liquid gold, really.
For Nebraska, I think there will be opportunities to adapt different crops. I mean, we’re primarily corn and soybeans because that’s what works well. We can grow whatever, probably, the market demands or wants.
I think part of that is we have to have processors come in to be able to process different crops. And so that’s really, you know, you got agriculture, we’re pretty good at farming, but when you talk about bringing a processor in a lot of times, you’re talking about a different type of partner. And, so, I think we have to be open-minded enough to think that if we do need to adjust some of our crops, certainly willing to do that but, collectively as a state, we have to have that conversation. What might that be? And that what are all those different steps that have to be involved ultimately to make that successful? But I think there are some really significant thing that we can do.
And again, kind of relative to the opening, farmers have been at adapting and growing different crops, seasonally, all across the country for a long time. So, the fact that we can’t figure out how to grow something different is not true. I mean, we can, but I think it’s gonna be what the weather dictates, and then who is the early adopters who wants to take that risk. But I absolutely think that Nebraska could still continue to be a really significant player in fruit food production for the country.
Hannah Birge, Director of Agriculture for The Nature Conservancy-Nebraska: Yeah. And I’ll just add, I mean, the 2012 drought you saw declines in the Ogallala aquifer throughout, but you actually saw quite a bit of resilience in the Nebraska portion of the aquifer. What I mean by that is it rained and the aquifer sort of crept back up, whereas we saw a lot more sustained declines in the Southern part of the aquifer.
There’s actually a choke point in sort of Northwest or Northwest Kansas, Southwest Nebraska and it’s shallow and it’s narrow. And, so, the declines that are happening there don’t really affect us here. And, so, for that reason, I agree. And I think that we might actually see Nebraska, um, becoming a pretty important powerhouse in agricultural production in the world.
When you see the US experience droughts or other places experienced droughts; because the Ogallala, it’s not an unending supply, but it’s quite resilient in the state. It allows us to maintain production despite drought. And, so, when I also think about more growing-degree-days in the summer, hotter temperatures combined with that water, man, like we could just really, I mean, we’re already powerhouses, but Nebraska could really rise to the top in terms of food and crop production.
Martha Shulski, Humanities Nebraska Moderator: Absolutely. Yeah, to me, it kind of sits in this. I kind of call it the climate crossroads. And, so, it’s dry in the west and it’s gonna get drier it’s wet in the east and it’s gonna get wetter. And, so, we’re right in the middle here. And so how that we could be in a prime position going forward.
Josh Moenning, Mayor of Norfolk: A couple years ago, when the policy door was opened just a crack to hemp production, there was a lot of interest.
And I heard about it. My area of the state, you know, traditional farmers are looking at as an alternative crop and another revenue source. I think, again, that’s where our policy needs to match up with market demand and producer’s innovation. Because I think the desire is there to look at alternatives.
But we need to plant for it and we need to be forward-looking. The processing thing, as I understand it, with hemp became one of the impediments, right. We didn’t have that infrastructure here. And then I think we were a little slow on allowing for permits and things like that. So, it’s more or less fizzled out as I understand it. But those are opportunities that can be real moving forward and, and going back to clean energy too.
There’s more and more traditional farmers that are looking at some of their marginal farmland and saying, okay, maybe solar makes sense here. We have a couple examples in north Nebraska where we’re talking, you know, 22 – 2400 acres going into solar production on land that probably is questionable whether it should be formed in the first place; those are opportunities to generate new revenues.
Martha Shulski, Humanities Nebraska Moderator: Yeah. So that’s kind of tied to one of the questions here, which I saw. There we go.
Iowa gets 30% of its synergy from wind. What needs to change for Nebraska to start using more sustainable energy? So, you mentioned solar.
Josh Moenning, Mayor of Norfolk: It’s an experience in question Iowa has about five times the wind production that Nebraska does, but less land mass and more dense population. We have more resources than Iowa does, much more resources in terms of wind.
And, so, some of that has to do with policy. Again, Iowa was one of the first states to adopt policy and incentives for wind production and the infrastructure, having the foresight of building up the transmission infrastructure capacity, which we have challenges with in Nebraska too.
But we have the opportunity now to be an energy-producing state. We’re, you know, historically, we’re not an oil or coal or gas state, but we are a wind and solar state. We have wind and solar potential that’s in the top 10 in both; top five in the wind and wind and top 10 in solar.
But adapting to that, seeing that as an opportunity and not as a threat in ways, is a key to this, both at the state policy level and in local governments too. I mean, there’s some areas of the state that have slammed the door shut on the opportunity because various reasons. But it’s a lot of it comes down to fear-mongering and politics. Taking the politics out of a lot of this stuff will help us get to solutions. As it typically does in most things.
Hannah Birge, Director of Agriculture for The Nature Conservancy-Nebraska: And I would also add, so one thing the Nature Conservancy is doing is we have something called Our Site At Right. And wind energy is something we are for, but only if it’s cited appropriately. So, what we don’t want is large wind turbines in things like bat migratory corridors.
We don’t want huge solar farms going up over intact grasslands. So, wind is absolutely a part of the solution, but it’s important that we cite it in places that aren’t going to impact our native ecosystems as well.
Martha Shulski, Humanities Nebraska Moderator: Mm-hmm. Yeah. That’s a good point. Um, any others wanna chime in?
Mark McHargue, President of the Nebraska Farm Bureau: You know, I think I had the opportunity, the governor pointed me to a hydrogen hub committee the other day, and I think there’s some really fascinating work going on in the hydrogen and clean fuels.
And, so, I think when you take hydrogen, you can combine that with potential some biofuels we can make it more efficient. We could take hydrogen and potentially power one of our power plants. And the interesting thing is that within Nebraska, because of the irrigation, it takes power to pump that water. And, so, as we think about climate change, it’s important that we have electrical production that’s, uh, uh, environmentally friendly.
And, so, I think there’s some other avenues that we can actually explore and go down. For instance, we have a company monolith in Nebraska that is gonna potentially create green hydro ammonia, which is our fertilizer.
The byproduct that is carbon, they take that out. The other product is hydrogen. And so now we have a potential system that is carbon neutral that eventually feeds into one of our biggest industries, agriculture. And, again, I think it sets us up to potentially be a powerhouse, because not only of our production, but how we do our production in an environmentally friendly and ultimately climate-friendly system.
Martha Shulski, Humanities Nebraska Moderator: Yeah. Yeah. So, we won’t be on that working group together. Yes. “et’s see.
So, if so many of our solutions rely on rural land owners in Nebraska, how can we engage Nebraskan’s urban populations, now almost 70% of Nebraskans, in solutions? So, kind of an urban versus rural. And we’ve got people here represented, we’ve got central city and Omaha residents here with us. Anybody wanna take that?
Jesse Bell, Director of the Water, Climate, and Health Program at UNMC: Well, I can start off.
I don’t know if I have the best answer for this, but, you know, and this kind of goes back to what we were talking about a little bit before when it’s a, you know, how do you talk to different groups. And, you know, making it local and bringing in that perspective and solutions based.
I do a lot of communication with younger people around climate change, and you can see within that population. And, you know, as we know a lot of our rural areas are aging and a lot of our population basis is now in Lincoln, in Omaha. And that’s where a lot of our younger people are moving. There’s just making that bridge there. And, so, when you talk to a lot of younger people, they have this, you know, and I saw fear and I saw despair or something, you know, that was some of the words that came up when I was talking about climate change.
And one of the things that I’ve really done is changing my conversation with younger people and not talking about all the doom and gloom. Sure. There’s plenty of doom and gloom, but really trying to focus on there’s solutions, there’s opportunities, and there’s action. And we can do all these things like there are.
And, you know, when I would talk about climate change, now, I’m like, you know, there are things that you can do as an individual and there’s things that you can do within your community. And there’s things that you can do in the broader spectrum as well. And if you’re taking those actions, you can make a difference and you can see those differences in places like Omaha, with OPPD and how they’ve changed their energy use and how they’re changing their energy use.
And that is action. That’s being involved, if you’re interested in this being a part of the solution, being a part of the conversation. And that’s kind of the part, to some extent with this. Well, with this, you changed the question for me.
I’ll just answer whatever question I want. And so I think that’s part of it is, you know, making them feel like there’s an opportunity to be engaged and be a part of the solution in some capacity and realizing that making these changes at the local level, because we know all of the solutions to these problems, it isn’t like we have to come up with a brand new solution for how to address climate.
We’ve got most of the answers there. We just need to enact them. And so that’s why we need engaged people to be a part of the conversation, to be active in their communities and help build that bridge. And, honestly, I think most of them are there. They just don’t know how to make those connections. And so hopefully we can help, help show them or guide them through that process as well.
Mark McHargue, President of the Nebraska Farm Bureau: Yeah. It’s a fascinating question.
When you think about Nebraska and so much land-based, and some of these solutions we’re talking about, it has an agricultural tie, but yet we have population and it gets back to that urban rural difference in how they think. And I think that’s one of the things that Nebraska Farm Bureau and I, as president leading the ag sector, that we’re very committed to having those conversations.
And I think we have been in silos too long. And we, we all do it. We’re out doing our thing and we understand our sector of it, but it’s really important that we have these cross-pollen conversations, just like we’re doing tonight, to ensure that, as Nebraskans, we are actually accomplishing something and it’s not a rural-urban thing. It’s just that why would somebody in the middle of the city that’s may be dealing with heat at a bus stop understand what heat is doing to my corn?
I mean, so without cross-pollination and actually education across, I mean, there’s not a reason that they would understand. And I think it’s incumbent on us, as leaders in Nebraska, to actually bring those groups together and help have a shared conversation. Because quite frankly, most of the time when I get to be a part of that conversation, the values that we share are 90%. Yeah. And a lot of times it’s the 10% that we just don’t understand that, you know, divides us. And that really shouldn’t be in a state like Nebraska.
Martha Shulski, Humanities Nebraska Moderator: Yeah, no, I really appreciate that.
Josh Moenning, Mayor of Norfolk: And a lot of these aren’t just urban or rural applications, right. They go across the board. Next week, Norfolk will cut the ribbon on the state’s largest community solar project, eight and a half megawatt project, tied to a battery energy storage system.
We did that not because we’re tied into some green agenda, but we do believe it is part of the solution to mitigating carbon, but it also makes business sense by participating. By buying into it, community members and businesses will save a little bit of money each month on their household or business energy bills. So, there’s a business case for these things.
We’re also, you know, entertaining becoming a hub in a hub and spoke model for regional recycling because there’s markets now for that, that make business sense. We’ve started a public transit system, comprehensive public transit system in Norfolk because we’re finding that it brings value to people’s lives; it helps households get kids to school. It helps people get to work, elderly people get to medical appointments and it’s working well. These are thought of as urban things typically, right. But they’re working, in reality, in our city, which is in the middle of a rural region, because they have real-life applications that makes economic sense and provides value to people’s lives.
Martha Shulski, Humanities Nebraska Moderator: Yeah. Yeah. So, I’ll revisit the question that popped up here that was at the wrong time. How should the youth and students in Nebraska be involved or engaged and what will be their climate change impacted future here in Nebraska?
I, you know, so I teach a 100-level class called ‘Climate and Crisis’ at the university. And over the last 10 years, I’ve noticed students just be more and more concerned and really advocate and really leading the way in a lot of these efforts. And, so, I’m just curious whether there, if you have involvement with the youth, maybe, you know, young producers or young conservationists, or, you know, even younger people in this city, it’s, what’s your involvement and or what are some good ways in these different sectors for youth to get involved?
Jesse Bell, Director of the Water, Climate, and Health Program at UNMC: Well, I mean, I already answered this question to some extent, but I’ll give it another shot because, you know, I work a lot with the medical students and public health students and different students at UNMC.
And when I first showed up to UNMC, everybody pretty much just said, you know, I was like, “oh, you know, are there any student organizations dealing with the environment or sustainability? I’m just kind of curious.”
And people told me they were like, “no, medical students are too busy. Public health students are here for two years. Like nobody really cares.”
And I was like, “okay.”
And within a year, three medical students reached out to me and said that they wanted to create a… it was called the Healthy Earth Alliance. And it was around, it’s HEAL is the short, and focused on climate change and sustainability. And especially in the context of healthcare and public health. And from there it blossomed from three students and turning into a student organization to now, I believe we have over 80 or 100 students that’s all across UNMC. And they have been engaged. Like they just, you just point ’em in a direction and they’re like they’re, actually, sometimes we have to point in a direction, they just go. And so now, because of the work that they’re doing, we’re having climate change integrated into the medical school curriculum so that the future doctors can understand this issue more.
We have an EMET, which is an enhanced medical education track. It’s like a minor for medical students. This is the only place in the US, that I know of, that has something like this. And this is driven by the students. They’re engaged. They’re interested
And, you know, I think just letting them foster that creativity and that interest and making sure that they can channel that and show that there is an actual difference that they can make because they’re making a difference, like that university, from those three medical students now to the 80 to 100 or whatever it is, that’s a part of heal.
Like they’ve made a difference, they’ve changed the university and the practices within the university. And I think that kind of, and to me shows like, you’re, you can make a difference and it might be at a smaller scale, but you can make it a difference in a lot of different ways that can have impacts for generations to come.
Martha Shulski, Humanities Nebraska Moderator: So yeah, that’s a great story.
Hannah Birge, Director of Agriculture for The Nature Conservancy-Nebraska: I work a lot with big private companies in the food and beverage companies. And this is a message probably more for the MBA type students or, you know, students interested in going into business administration, large fortune 500 and even 100 companies right now are embedding sustainability and climate change solutions in their business model. It is no longer possible to be a large publicly traded company without trying to tackle this somehow.
And, in fact, the Security and Exchange Commission is actually just released a proposal investigating whether or not they should require climate-related disclosures from publicly traded companies. So even if that doesn’t go through, and we hope it does at the Nature Conservancy, if you are a student who might think that climate change is outside of the realm of what you should care about because you’re interested in economics or business that’s really no longer the case.
And so, and, and the good news is that I think a lot of those students know that, and I’ve heard a shift in a lot of students going from climate change is real and happening versus I don’t think it’s happening to everyone kind of agrees that it’s happening and now the conversation is moving towards what kind of solutions.
And you hear some folks who historically might not have been you know, on board with believing the climate change is real and happening saying “It’s real. I don’t want policy to drive this. I want market forces. I want market solutions. I want voluntary participation.”
And, so, it’s really encouraging to sort of see that shift. We might not agree on the solutions, but at least we’re talking about solutions instead of, you know, spending more time debating whether or not the climate change is happening or not.
Mark McHargue, President of the Nebraska Farm Bureau: And I think, I mean, you brought up SCC and we’re actually probably different there.
We very much oppose that rule. And primarily because what I, again, kind of get back to you, is we develop policy, we do want it voluntary incentive-based. And, so, my experience has been, as we’ve dealt with, especially in the food sector, that we deal with larger and larger companies, you have shareholders controlling the dialogue.
And for a shareholder on a publicly traded company, it’s gotta be about profit. And, so, us in agriculture, down on the other end of it, we wanna make sure that we have shareholders that actually understand the mechanics of agriculture and that you can’t necessarily just flip a switch to somehow ensure that their, their stockholders are happy.
And, so, I think we’ve worked really hard at having those conversations with some of our large food sector entities to help understand that we need a very holistic approach. And if we have the dollar strictly dictating how we do climate change, I’m not sure that’s healthy for the country.
Martha Shulski, Humanities Nebraska Moderator: Any others wanna share perspective?
Josh Moenning, Mayor of Norfolk: Oh, very anecdotally, compared to these academic responses, I speak to a lot of third and fourth-grade classrooms. And I expect, I always ask, like, “so what do you want to see more of in your community?”
And I, at the beginning, I expected to hear what we need, like a Justice at the mall or something like that, or, you know, HuHot. Actually, I heard HuHot a lot. If HuHot’s listening, Norfolk’s a market for you.
But always at the top of the list are things like more parks, more walkable neighborhoods, and cleaner air, and water. That’s always top three, top five answers. So, there’s this intuitive sense among young people, very young people, even that we need to do better.
And this is the kind of world I wanna live in. And I think the other answer to part of that is technology; embracing the technology opportunities that come with being solutions to this is, you know, precision ag technology. We have a new business coming to Norfolk that manufactures pivot and monitors and pump monitors and moisture sensors, and things like that.
There’s a huge opportunity in regions like ours for that kind of thing. And that attracts younger people, those technology jobs rooted in sustainable systems attract younger people. And there are opportunities for our smaller communities to again, engage in the new economy.
Martha Shulski, Humanities Nebraska Moderator: Yeah. Yeah. So, this question on the screen here is kind of related to what we’ve talked about with voluntary programs in incentive-based programs.
So, if mitigative actions are incentive-based, what might the funding structure source look like? Which is a complicated question. Anybody wanna take that.
Hannah Birge, Director of Agriculture for The Nature Conservancy-Nebraska: Well, in… I work, again, with a lot of food and beverage supply chain companies and, somewhat related to the Security and Exchange Commission sort of climate-related disclosures, or at least, you know, some sort of accounting of your greenhouse gas footprint for these companies is pretty much part and parcel of what most of the large food and beverage companies do.
They’re not gonna have precise estimates, but they’re going to be able to tell you their greenhouse gas footprint associated with their direct emissions from facilities, indirect from purchase, you know energy. And then also sort of the more indirect sort of hard to calculate things. Something like, you know tilling your farm, you know, releases greenhouse gases, and then that farm sources to these companies.
And they’re also kind of trying to track down those indirect emissions as well in their supply chains and for those sort of different types of emissions, most companies have set very ambitious goals. And some of them are at 2030. Some of them are 2050. You’ll hear targets thrown around. Like I wanna, “we’re gonna be net zero across all of our operations by 2050.”
And we are trying to help the companies meet those goals cause they’re incredibly ambitious. And, oftentimes, those goals are set before there’s necessarily a plan in place. And part of getting from where they are to where they wanna go is absolutely going to be incentivizing the practices that we care about and in the food and beverage sector that is going to be incentivizing farmers to adjust their practices.
A lot of the details still need to be worked out, but it, I think it’s really important for the consumers to pay attention to those targets and hold companies speak to the fire, make sure that if those targets are being blown past, that there are some sort of repercussions and that people are paying attention.
I think that’s one way we can start sort of shifting the system towards incentivizing those practices rather than sort of forcing or compelling those practices to take place.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: That’s all we have for today, but we’re gonna keep learning from those climate change professionals, so check back next week for that next segment on the Humanities Nebraska event, “Weathering Uncertainty: Conversations about Climate in Nebraska.”
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