Using ETgages & Cost-Share

Using ETgages & Cost-Share

Irrigation Management Tools and Cost-Share Programs

May 13, 2015

With spring planting well underway, it's time for irrigators to begin thinking about this summer's irrigation management.  While parts of the state are experiencing flooding, other areas are unfortunately experiencing drought conditions. Hopefully, irrigators across the state will receive adequate rainfall to delay irrigation until July or even later, but in Nebraska, you just never know.

University researchers installing soil water sensors
Figure 1. University researchers installing soil water sensors.

That's one reason why more producers and crop consultants are utilizing soil moisture monitoring equipment to effectively manage their irrigation.

Whether you use watermark or capacitance soil water sensors, ETgages (atmometers), flow meters, or other types of equipment or services, each can provide valuable information to help you make informed irrigation management decisions.  An old quote is very appropriate, "If you don't monitor it, how can you manage it?"

 One option for producers and crop consultants is to participate in the Nebraska Agricultural Water Management Network (NAWMN).  Since starting in 2005 with 15 growers in the Upper Big Blue NRD, the NAWMN has grown to over 1,229 participants statewide. The NAWMN has been promoting the use of two tools: Watermark soil water sensors and ETgages.  More information and videos about installing and using these two tools are available at

Surveys of producers using soil moisture sensors and ETgages typically report reduced pumping of 1-2 inches of water annually, as well as associated fuel savings.  With lower grain prices this year, it is important to reduce input costs wherever possible.

Cost-Share Programs

Many Nebraska Natural Resource Districts are encouraging the use of soil water sensors, ET gages, or flow meters by offering cost-share programs. In a quick check of Natural Resource Districts across the state, 19 of Nebraska's 23 NRDs offer some type of cost share for these types of equipment. Table 1 includes a list of NRDs, the type of cost-share available, and a web address and phone number for producers to contact for more information.  Programs vary widely between NRDs, so it's important to check with them or your area NRCS field office for more information about cost-share opportunities.

As a reminder, producers and consultants who have ETgages are encouraged to post their weekly ETgage readings on the interactive website at  In addition, producers wanting evapotranspiration or ET data for growing crops can use the site to get daily estimates from Nebraska weather stations based on crop growth stage.  This website is currently being updated, so look for changes soon. 

As a general rule, even without cost-share, these tools can help producers make timely science-based decisions that are economically and environmentally sound.

Gary Zoubek
Aaron Nygren
Chuck Burr
UNL Extension Educators

Table 1. Nebraska Natural Resource District (NRD) cost-share programs available for soil moisture monitoring equipment.
NRD Cost Share Phone Number
Central Platte NRD, Grand Island Web-based soil water sensing equipment only 308-385-6282
Lewis & Clark NRD, Hartington Flow meters 402-254-6758
Little Blue NRD, Davenport ETgages & Watermark Sensors 402-364-2145
Lower Big Blue NRD, Beatrice ETgages & Watermark Sensors; order due by March 31 annually 402-228-3402
Lower Elkhorn NRD, Norfolk Flow meters and soil moisture sensors 402-371-7313
Lower Loup NRD, Ord No cost-share at this time, but they highly recommend using sensors and ETgages 308-728-3221
Lower Niobrara NRD, Butte No cost-share at this time 402-775-2343
Lower Platte North NRD, Wahoo ETgages & Watermark Sensors 402-443-4675
Lower Platte South NRD, Lincoln Flow meters 402-476-2729
Lower Republican NRD, Alma Soil moisture sensors 308-928-2182
Middle Niobrara NRD, Valentine Soil moisture sensors 402-376-3241
Middle Republican NRD, Curtis Soil moisture sensors 308-367-4281
Nemaha NRD, Tecumseh Watermark sensors 402-335-3325
North Platte NRD, Scottsbluff Soil moisture sensors 308-632-2749
Papio Missouri River NRD, Omaha No cost-share at this time 402- 444-6222
South Platte NRD, Sidney ETgages & Watermark Sensors 308-254-2377 
Tri-Basin NRD, Holdrege Soil moisture sensors & rainfall shutoff devices 308-995-6992
Twin Platte NRD, North Platte Soil moisture sensors 308-535-8080
Upper Big Blue NRD, York Watermark sensors and ETgages 402-362-6601
Upper Elkhorn NRD, O'Neill No cost-share at this time 402-336-3867   
Upper Loup NRD, Thedford Flow meters existing wells and soil sensor equipment for producers to try 308-645-2250
Upper Niobrara-White NRD, Chadron Watermark sensors and ETgages purchased from the NRD 308-432-6190
Upper Republican NRD, Imperial Soil moisture sensors 308-882-5173


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