Like the Unicameral, Nebraska’s Natural Resources Districts (NRDs) are part of the state’s innovative fiber. As local governance institutions, they guide how Nebraska manages groundwater, soil, trees, flood control and recreation projects that are vital to the state and have become a model other states are following. The NRDs have helped shape Nebraska’s environment for more than 40 years. But until now, there has not been a comprehensive history of how they were formed.

Thanks to the NRD Oral History Project, at, the early leaders tell the founding stories in their own words – and voices. The project, a collaboration between the Robert B. Daugherty Water for Food Institute, Nebraska Association of Resources Districts, Nebraska State Historical Society and several former and current stewards of Nebraska’s natural resources, features 80 45-minute audio interviews with individuals from all 23 NRDs. And through, visitors can listen to interviews, read transcripts, look through photos and search stories via an interactive NRD map.



The project began in 2013 when Jim Barr, Gayle Starr and Dayle Williamson, all involved in the NRDs’ early years, sat down to interview one another.

“While I was mostly a witness to the idea of merging many special purpose organizations throughout the state into 24 natural resources districts, I thought then – and now – that this was a remarkable achievement,” said Jim Barr who helped gather information from interviewees. “I believe it’s a story that needed to be told while many of the participants could still tell it.”

As the interviews piled up, so too did the importance of organizing and sharing them. From January to September 2015, student interns and staff at the Water for Food Institute developed the project’s website. Visitors can tap into NRD history with a simple click and hear from those who made it happen in seconds.

“It took a lot of gritty hours by our talented staff to bring this to life,” said Jesse Starita, Water for Food Institute Education Outreach Associate. “Our web developer Craig Eiting and student interns Cindy Reyes-Cortes and Sandra Dizdarevic did an outstanding job of creating the website’s design and navigation.”

“In the end, this project, in a very personal way, gives you a sense of the incredible individual and group efforts undertaken to get Natural Resources Districts off the ground back in 1972. One of the reasons our state has this unique system is because the people telling these stories – ranchers, state senators, lawyers, hydrologists, agricultural economists – were united by their desire to create a better system to steward our land and water,” said Starita.

Additional Resources