2015-16 Water Year Ranks 7th for Inflows

2015-16 Water Year Ranks 7th for Inflows

So far it’s been a pretty good year … if you’re a Husker football fan or a fan of Lake McConaughy.

The Huskers recently re-entered the Top 10 rankings (according to the AP and Coaches polls) for the first time in several years and inflows into Lake McConaughy also cracked the top 10, finishing the water year (Oct. 1, 2015 to Sept. 30, 2016) at number seven.

The (unofficial) total of 1,665,983 acre-feet (a-f) was 344,000 more than last year (2014-15) and 961,000 a-f behind the all-time inflow record of more than 2.6 million a-f set during the 2010-11 water year.

Still, this year’s mark was well above the historic median of 1,029,110 a-f and the historic average inflow of 916,900 a-f. That’s good news for the water supply in Nebraska.

If you just look at the last 30 years as a measuring stick, the recently ended water year was the second highest during that period.

Interestingly, since 2009-10 Lake McConaughy has experienced four of the 12 highest inflow years on record. Conversely, since 2000-01, we’ve seen the six LOWEST inflow totals ever, as well as the 8th and 9th lowest inflow years.

So if you’re looking for a trend, it might be along the lines of “feast or famine” over the past 16 years.

What to expect during the new water year? It appears that we’ll have to wait and see.

The good news might be that the La Niña weather pattern that was expected to follow the recently ended El Nino cycle has seemingly failed to materialize. According to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, La Nina cycles are typically characterized by below normal precipitation in the Central Rockies and the Great Plains. If it’s not a factor this year, winter and spring weather – and particularly snowfall and spring rainfall – are a coin flip, with equal chances of above or normal precipitation during the first part of 2017.

Yep, we’ll just have to wait and see.

 

(Note:  The author is NOT a meteorologist, but does like to watch the weather forecasts on TV.)

Joel Hull: Forgotten Pioneer

Joel Hull: Forgotten Pioneer

Forgotten Pioneer

This year The Central Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation District is marking the 75th anniversary of the completion of Kingsley Dam in 1941. The stories about George P. Kingsley and C.W. McConaughy, two of the most prominent men in the creation of the hydro-irrigation project, have been well documented. However, the story of another pioneer who sought to bring hydropower and irrigation to south-central Nebraska, has been largely forgotten.

Joel Hull was educated in Ohio as a lawyer, served as an officer in General Crook’s brigade during the Civil War and then entered the tannery business after the war. However, he soon became intrigued by the promises of cheap land, plentiful resources and the opportunity to make a fortune in the new land being settled “out west.” Some may have called him a speculator or a “Boomer,” but it could certainly be said that he was ambitious.

He sold his tannery and moved to Nebraska in 1872. He settled first in Lowell in Kearney County, which then consisted of about six buildings and a handful of surrounding farms. He staked out a claim and started farming the virgin prairie, but he was never content as a farmer. He had bigger dreams.

One of his first efforts – along with others who shared his way of thinking — was to move the county seat from Lowell, through which the railroad ran, to a little town in the center of the county that consisted of little more of than a post office operated by an old German immigrant. The immigrant had named the place Minden after his old home town in Germany.

The people of the county approved the move of the county seat in 1876, although a court injunction delayed the official designation of Minden as the county seat until 1878. By then, a courthouse had been built, lots laid out, and a school and hotel were under construction. By 1880 there were 200 people living in Minden and 300 by 1882. The boom came in 1883 when the Burlington and Missouri Railroad laid tracks through the town and by the end of 1883, 1,200 people called Minden home.

Still Hull was not content. He and others who were encouraged by the rapid growth of their town had much bigger ambitions. In 1887 he proposed a canal to produce hydropower to turn the wheels of commerce and power Minden’s future. In 1889 he formed the Nebraska Canal and Improvement Company which had a charter befitting his ambitions. The company was to be involved in real estate, town-building, flour mills, steel mills, foundries, machine shops, grain businesses, rolling mills, city water works, wagons and carriages, and of course power plants to run the factories and businesses. Irrigation canals would serve the surrounding farms. The company would oversee the growth of a “Minneapolis on the Plains.”

Hull contracted with surveyors to plot the course of his power canal. They produced plans for a 54-mile-long canal from near the mouth of Plum Creek on the Platte River north of Bertrand to Sand Creek near Minden. The plans for the canal would have followed a very similar route chosen in the late 1930s for Central’s Phelps Canal. All he needed was $150,000 to build the canal.

But that’s as far as he got. No record of funds being raised or dirt being turned exists. Drought in the early 1890s was already forcing people out of the area as crops and businesses failed. When the Santa Fe Railroad abandoned plans to build a railroad through Minden to the Black Hills, his dream suffered another serious blow.

But Hull wasn’t ready to give up. He revived his plans on a smaller scale in 1894. His canal would still produce hydropower, but would have more of a focus on irrigation. But the years 1895 to 1898 were wet years that made people forget the need for irrigation. Even two more years of drought in 1899 and 1900 could not convince people of the need for irrigation.

However, between 1906 and 1915, average annual precipitation in the Kearney County area declined yearly. Hull died in 1914, and by then others had become convinced that the area could not prosper without a reliable supply of water to offset nature’s whims.

In 1913, C.W. McConaughy, mayor of Holdrege and a grain merchant was driving through the fields north of Holdrege on what was known as the Elm Creek road. He spotted a wheat field that had an odd look to it. In some areas the wheat grew tall with full heads of grain; in others, the wheat was stunted and with sparse heads.

Upon locating the owner of the field1, McConaughy learned that the field had been previously planted to corn. During harvest, the corn had been put up in shocks to dry. Subsequently, snow had collected around the shocks. When the snow melted, the water soaked into the ground. It was in these areas that the wheat grew best.

An idea was born, an idea that would eventually lead to the construction of The Central Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation District’s hydro-irrigation project.

The rest, as they say, is history.

 

  1. The farmer was most likely O.T. Anderson, a supporter of the “Tri-County Project,” as it was then known, and later a member of CNPPID’s board of directors. He was identified in a March 21, 1938 article in the Holdrege Daily Citizen. In an interview with Moritz Aabel, who became a long-serving member of Central’s board, Mr. Aabel recalled mention by McConaughy of returning from a trip to Elm Creek during which he noticed the field. Such a route would have taken him past Anderson’s farm.

 

May Inflows to Lake McConaughy Ranked 5th Highest

May Inflows to Lake McConaughy Ranked 5th Highest

By now, everyone knows this spring was, well, on the wet side. While rainfall during May in Central’s irrigated area was only slightly above average (Central’s gauge in Holdrege collected about 2.3 inches, about 104 percent of normal), that followed an April during which more than nine inches of rain fell across most of the area and even higher localized totals were reported from some rain gauge sites.

But what happened in south-central Nebraska pales in comparison to what was (and is) occurring in the western part of the Platte River Basin.

The 2015-16 water year (Oct. 1 to Sept. 30) started off in a fairly innocuous manner. Inflows to Lake McConaughy in October, November and December were very close to normal. The new year started with more of the same. The first four months brought inflows that ranged between 75,000 acre-feet and 79,000 acre-feet, again only slightly above historical median, or normal, inflows.

The pattern changed in May. Inflows to Lake McConaughy during April had lagged below normal until the last day of the month when they finally climbed to 1,876 cubic feet per second (cfs), about 350 cfs higher than normal. Over the next 31 days, the faucet was open all the way. The daily average inflow during that period was 6,394 cfs, far exceeding the normal daily average of 1,729 cfs. At May’s end, more than 393,000 acre-feet had flowed into Lake McConaughy, almost six times the amount (69,252 a-f) that normally arrives at the reservoir during the month, and certainly more than was projected. In fact, inflows during May were the fifth highest on record. (See table.)

Water YearInflow (acre-feet)
1.      1970-71451,524
2.      1983-84425,461
3.      2010-11420,804
4.      1972-73411,080
5.      2015-16393,132*
6.      1941-42340,031
7.      1982-83313,413
8.      1998-99235,133
9.      1979-80228,063
10.   1996-97197,200

(*Provisional)

May inflows peaked at 8,564 cfs on the last day of the month, then clicked up a notch to 8,716 cfs on the first day of June, which is the highest daily inflow since June 20, 2011 when the river gauge at Lewellen hit 9,000 cfs. So far this month, inflows have been steadily declining (inflows were at 6,750 cfs on the day this was written, still more than three times the normal rate, but declining nevertheless), which was actually welcome news as Lake McConaughy was nearing its maximum storage elevation.

As March began, snowpack in the upper and lower North Platte River basins and the South Platte was near normal. Inflows to Lake McConaughy, as stated above were at or slightly below normal. Reservoir storage in the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s North Platte River reservoirs was also near normal for the time of year.

The picture looked pretty much the same when April arrived, nothing to get too excited about. Snowpack accumulation in the upper North Platte Basin was at 101 percent of normal; while the lower basin (which typically provides less runoff than the upper basin) was at 121 percent. Experts were expecting “good” runoff, but not quite the volume of water that would show up in the Platte Basin during May.

Heavy snow fell in the Rocky Mountains; at lower elevations and rainfall came in quantities that were well above normal. Conditions rapidly changed; what was setting up to be a “good” year for inflows suddenly turned to exceptional.

Water managers with the Bureau of Reclamation started releases from Glendo Reservoir in early May to make room for expected high inflows, but despite the early releases, storage behind Glendo Dam soon reached the flood pool level. Glendo is the only reservoir in the North Platte Basin with a designated flood pool, which can hold about 300,000 acre-feet. As June began, there was still about 200,000 a-f of flood pool space remaining and water being held in the reservoir helped reduce the high flows crossing into Nebraska.

In summary, late spring rains – which are typical, but not in the quantity that ended up falling — and the late beginning to the spring snowmelt in the mountains because of cooler than normal temperatures combined to produce the volume of water now in the rivers.

To complicate matters, snowmelt is also just beginning in the South Platte Basin. Flows in the South Platte recently had been running well above normal before falling off to near normal. However, a lot of snow remains to melt from the higher elevations and there is little room for storage in Colorado’s off-stream reservoirs.

While flows in the South Platte are currently well below flood stage, that might change, depending upon how fast the snow melts and how much precipitation falls in the valley over the next few weeks.

With temperatures on the rise, demand for irrigation water will soon increase up and down the Platte River Valley, which will take some of the water out of the river. But it’s probably safe to assume that there will be higher than normal flows in the Platte Basin for much of the summer.

From the Archives: “This Day in History”

From the Archives:  “This Day in History”

Kingsley Dam was completed in 1941, so as we approach in 2016 the 75th anniversary of the dam and the beginning of project operations, we will be posting a list of historical highlights from the District’s past, sort of a “This Day in History” compilation. The entries will added according to when they occurred over the calendar year.

APRIL

April 11, 1941 — George Johnson, Central’s chief engineer and general manager, predicted that the Platte River would have a steady year-round flow within three years.  The construction of Kingsley Dam and Lake McConaughy, which would store flows in the North Platte River for irrigation deliveries and hydroelectric generation, would eliminate the “no-flow” periods — particularly in the central Platte stretch — that were common before the dam was built.  (Subsequent history would prove Johnson largely correct.)  The canal system — including the Supply Canal and the irrigation canals — would eventually contribute underground return flows helped stabilize base flows in the river.

NOVEMBER

Nov. 1, 1933 – The Central Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation District was officially organized after State Engineer Roy Cochran gave conditional approval to a reorganization of the District. The District’s creation had initially been approved by the Nebraska Department of Roads and Irrigation on July 24, 1933 as the Central Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation District, although several hurdles remained to be cleared. Having made progress toward gaining approval and funding for the hydro-irrigation project, the new organization – officially called THE Central Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation District – was created by the state engineer’s approval on Nov. 1.

Nov. 7, 1940 – Central’s board of directors signed a farm management contract with the University of Nebraska, placing what was called the Tri-County Farm Management Farm (which was used to demonstrate best management practices to farmers still learning about irrigated farming) under the supervision of the University’s Board of Regents.

November, 1940 — The two dredges pumping fill for Kingsley Dam — one upstream and one below the dam — completed the project that built (at the time, behind Ft. Peck Dam on the Missouri River in Montana) the second largest hydraulic-fill dam in the world.  Approximately 25.5 million cubic yards of sand and gravel were pumped during the process.  Following completion of dredging activities, workers plugged the huge tube that carries water from the North Platte River beneath the dam (now connected to the Morning Glory Spillway) and water began passing through the Control Tower.  The process of filling the reservoir was expected to begin in the spring of 1941.

November, 1965 – Central crews, under the supervision of Kingsley Dam Division Manager Bernard Donelan, finished what was originally planned to be a three-year project of placing 800-lbs. tetrahedrons on the face of Kingsley Dam. The 16,360 “tets” were placed in a matter of months because the growing season proved to be wet, resulting in low demand for water from Lake McConaughy and freeing up members of the crew to work on the dam instead of their normal irrigation-related duties. A private contractor poured the concrete jackstones at a site near the dam and subsequently manufactured several thousand more to stockpile near the dam. The jackstones were designed to protect the dam’s face by breaking wave action against the dam.

November 2004 – Maps prepared from data accumulated by the UNL Conservation and Survey Division revealed, “Significant and persistent declines in some areas of the state (that) have only become more obvious in the last few years due mainly to current drought conditions and resulting increases in groundwater pumping.” The UNL Water Center noted a spike in well drilling that occurred after passage in the spring of LB962 (a law intended to prevent conflicts between groundwater and surface water users) that spurred a rush to drill additional wells before a moratorium on new wells in some areas went into effect. According to UNL hydrogeologist Jim Goeke, “The increase in pumping and diminished recharge to the aquifer due to drought disrupts groundwater flow to streams, delaying or diminishing the flow of surface water in many basins.”

November 2009 – After 25 years and generation of almost 2 million megawatt-hours of electricity, the Kingsley Hydroplant finally required significant repairs and maintenance. Central crews began complete disassembly of the turbine-generator unit prior to repair of bushings in the turbine hub, cavitation repair on the turbine blades, refurbishment of wicket gates and oil seal improvements. The $4 million project was completed by March 2010.

OCTOBER

Oct. 10, 1955 – Central’s board of directors and management announced plans to build a 100-megwatt power plant to be fueled by natural gas. The plant, which went on-line in 1958, was constructed adjacent to the Supply Canal southeast of Lexington, was named the Canaday Steam Plant after Ralph O. Canaday, who served as the District’s legal counsel during the formative years of efforts to bring an irrigation project to south-central Nebraska and later served as Central’s chief legal counsel and general manager.

Oct. 17, 1956 – During a drought in the mid-1950s, Lake McConaughy dropped to its lowest elevation on record since the reservoir’s initial fill. The lake’s elevation on this date was 3,198.2, with a volume of 348,900 acre-feet. At the time, the reservoir’s maximum capacity exceeded 1.9 million acre-feet, so the amount of water behind Kingsley Dam represented only 18.4 percent of capacity. The low-water mark would stand until September 2004 when the lake fell to an elevation of 3,197.6 feet during another extended drought. At that time, Lake McConaughy contained 341,400 acre-feet, or 19.6 percent of its current maximum capacity of 1,743,000 acre-feet. The reservoir’s maximum capacity was lowered in the early 1970s after a 1972 windstorm damaged the protective face of the dam.

Oct. 19, 1964 – A project began to replace an original – and somewhat iconic – structure along Central’s Supply Canal. The “High Bridge,” located on a county road over the canal south of Cozad was 219 feet long and stood 74 feet above the canal’s water surface was originally constructed in 1938 and was the highest bridge in the District. Age and wear-and-tear took its toll on the wooden bridge and it was replaced by a new bridge that stands 33 feet above the canal.

bridge-construction

The original “high bridge” under construction over the Supply Canal south of Cozad.

high_bridge_replacement

The replacement bridge under construction in 1964.

Oct. 26, 1990 – More than 800 people attended a “scoping hearing” at the Ogallala City Auditorium conducted by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in connection with the relicensing of Central’s (and the Nebraska Public Power District’s) hydroelectric project. More than 35 people testified during the five-hour meeting, almost all in favor of issuance of a new license with conditions that would not hinder provision of the many benefits from the project.

Oct. 27, 1997 – Central construction crews began an earthwork project to raise the head above a siphon on the E-65 Canal and to install more than 2,000 feet of synthetic membrane. The earthwork would provide six more feet of elevation above the siphon to increase the volume of water passing through the mile-long pipe. The membrane lining significantly reduces conveyance losses and prevents bank erosion along the E-65 Canal between the head gate near the Johnson Lake inlet and the siphon.

October 2001 – Central started a major rehabilitation project on its three Supply Canal hydropower plants. The project involved replacing the original turbines, rewinding all five generators and installing a new transformer in the J-2 hydroplant switchyard.

 

2014-15 Water Year Inflows Exceeded “Normal”

2014-15 Water Year Inflows Exceeded “Normal”

In the wild and wacky world of water, a review of data from the 2014-15 water year (which ended Sept. 30), is an interesting – if not particularly enlightening — exercise, as I’ll demonstrate below. It’s difficult to know what, if any, conclusions can be drawn.

The 2014-15 water year ended up as the 11th highest in terms of inflows to Lake McConaughy (see table below), which means it ranked above “normal.”

“Normal” inflows, depending upon how you choose to look at them, are either understood to be the “average,” (or “mean”), which is a number that is calculated by adding quantities together and then dividing the total by the number of those quantities; or the “median,” which is defined as “the value in the center of the distribution for an array of data.”

One problem with using the average to define “normal” is that the values can be skewed by very high or very low data.  Those impacts, of course, are lessened as the data set grows larger.

So perhaps we should use median annual inflows, which produces a number right in the middle of the data set, as an indicator of “normal.”

But is that really “normal?” What, indeed, is “normal?”

According to Webster’s Dictionary, the definition of normal is “conforming to the standard or the common type; usual; regular; natural.”

Hmm. Not sure that’s helpful, particularly given the unpredictability of Nebraska’s weather and water supplies in the Platte River watershed.

Perhaps the second definition in the dictionary would be more appropriate: “Serving to establish a standard.” That might be more helpful as we seek conditions that conform to expectations.

For the sake of comparison, the historical median annual inflow into Lake McConaughy through the recently ended water year is 913,234 acre-feet. But the average annual inflow over that period is 1,020,504 acre-feet, which is a difference of 107,270 acre-feet, or almost 12 percent. For perspective, that’s like getting another October’s worth of inflows during a year, and October is historically the month when inflows, on average, are the highest.

But let’s take a look at another set of numbers, just for fun, of course. We’ve mentioned that the historic median annual inflow is 913,234 acre-feet. That’s over a period of 74 years. If we look at the median inflow over shorter periods of time, we find the following: The 30-year median – back to the 1985-86 water year – is only 758,071 acre-feet; the 10-year median is even lower at 723,595 acre-feet, but the 5-year median – bolstered by a couple of good water years and offset by a couple of below normal (there’s that word again) years – is 819,673 acre-feet, although still significantly less than the historic median. Does that mean that “normal” is a moving target, that it changes with time and circumstances? How can something so transient be referred to as “normal?”  Can “normal” change?  (Well, obviously.  It’s no longer considered “normal” to wear “disco” outfits, but that’s another story.)

So again we have to ask, “What is normal?” One of my favorite answers to this question, which I find fitting given weather on the Great Plains, is that normal is somewhere in the middle of two extremes. If that’s the case, then the only years when inflows to Lake McConaughy ended up in the “normal” range were 1957-58 when inflows were 916,900 acre-feet, or perhaps 1977-78 when inflows were 909,567 acre-feet.

After all that, it appears that we’ve only had two years of “normal” inflows in the last 74 years!

So when looking at inflows to Lake McConaughy, I guess you could use the saying from the movie “Forrest Gump,” when the title character’s mother advised him: “Life is (substitute “Inflows are…”) like a box of chocolates; you never know what you’re going to get.”

Top Twenty Water Years
Water YearAcre-Feet Inflow
1 . 2010-112,627,556
2. 1983-842,603,167
3. 1982-832,358,867
4. 1972-732,218,404
5. 1970-712,052,372
6. 1973-741,693,349
7. 1985-861,658,226
8. 1998-991,477,213
9. 1996-971,460,295
10. 2009-101,453,595
11. 2014-151,321,203
12. 1946-471,244,041
13. 1951-521,243,043
14. 1944-451,218,007
15. 1941-421,215,860
16. 1971-721,214,752
17. 1986-871,210,589
18. 1979-801,177,316
19. 1950-511,170,919
20. 1947-481,159,208

 

The “Bottom Ten”
Water YearAcre-Feet Inflow
10. 1960-61624,960
9. 2007-08609,533
8. 2012-13601,230
7. 1955-56597,654
6. 2004-05548,569
5. 2001-02544,574
4. 2005-06494,155
3. 2006-07477,645
2. 2002-03455,731
1. 2003-04440,900

(Note that nearly all of the inflow years that populate the “Bottom 10” occurred recently, during the first decade of the 21st century.)

Elwood High School Science Club Tours Project

Elwood High School Science Club Tours Project

As the public relations coordinator for The Central Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation District, I’ve led countless tours of the District’s hydro-irrigation project over the past 25 years. But unless my memory fails me – always a distinct possibility – I’ve never had the pleasure of hosting a group of high school students on a two-day tour.

That was the case on Oct. 6 and 7 when students from the Elwood High School science club participated in a tour. It was wonderful to have a group of kids who are so obviously invested in and serious about learning.

The Elwood Science Club is one of only three such clubs in Nebraska to gain certification by the American Chemistry Society. The club’s mission to motivate and encourage high school students to explore the many ways that chemistry is used in their everyday lives. It also provides hands-on opportunities for members to experience science beyond what is taught in the classroom; learn about career opportunities in the many and varied fields of science; provide service for the betterment of their community; and develop leadership and communication skills.

Look_under_water

Members of the science club get an “under water” look at the fish and wildlife display in the Water Interpretive Center.

Led by science teacher Chelsey Neville, the students were enthusiastic about the tour and eager to learn more about water, hydroelectric power, wildlife and agriculture in Nebraska.

The first stop on the tour was at Elwood Reservoir, a site very familiar to most of the students because of its proximity to their home town. The group then traveled to a site along the E67 Canal to learn about the new telemetry project and automated weather stations that provide real-time data on-line to irrigation customers to improve water management.

Mark_Peyton_and_bullsnake

Biologist Mark Peyton competed with a big snake and a little puppy for the students’ attention.

The next stop was the Jeffrey Island wildlife management area where Senior Biologist Mark Peyton met the group. Peyton explained how the 3,000-acre tract of land in the middle of two channels of the Platte River is managed by Central as wildlife habitat. In addition to habitat work to benefit shorebirds, cranes, migratory song birds, reptiles and insects have been studied on the island, as have methods for controlling unwanted vegetation.

Peyton, perhaps mistakenly, brought a companion to the island: his nine-month-old Labrador puppy. In the competition for the students’ attention, Peyton probably came in second to the cute, bouncing bundle of energy named Luna, although he probably salvaged the day by pulling a four-foot-long bull snake out of a bag and allowing some of the more intrepid students to handle the reptile.

Chelsey_student_and_bullsnake_Jeffrey_Island

Teacher Chelsey Neville seems a little less enthused about the snake than one of her students.

Following a stop at the Johnson Lake inlet and E65 Canal head gate, the group enjoyed lunch in Gothenburg’s Country Barn & Grill and then visited the Gothenburg Control Center. Electrical Superintendent Devin Brundage discussed Central’s supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system, explaining how technology has increased the efficiency of District hydropower and irrigation operations. He also complimented the students for their interest in science and encouraged them to pursue additional education and careers in fields related to science.

The next stop was Central’s diversion dam on the Platte River just east of the city of North Platte, followed by a visit to the Jeffrey Hydroplant where their tour guide was urged to save an unidentified species of snake (what is it with snakes showing up over and over?) from a watery grave in the hydroplant’s tailrace. The group then enjoyed an excellent catered dinner provided by the BBQ Company and John and Jenice Jordening of Lexington.

The group asked about rumors that Jeffrey Lodge was haunted by some long-dead and unknown spirit or spirits. Unfortunately, I could not confirm those rumors, which actually seem to have disappointed some of the students. I’ve stayed overnight at the lodge dozens of times and have never seen, heard, or felt anything out of the ordinary. But then again, I was apparently unable to dispel the rumors either. One of the boys claimed that he saw “a head or something” outside his bedroom window before turning in for the night. It was enough to make him sleep with some lights on.

See the “spectral image” in the upstairs window?*

Jeffrey_Lodge

* It’s (probably) a reflection from the ceiling lights in the dining room.

Big_wrench

Ready to go to work at Kingsley Hydro.

On the next morning, after a quick breakfast, the group traveled to the Lake McConaughy Visitors and Water Interpretive Center where Kingsley Dam Foreman Nate Nielsen educated the students about operation of the dam and hydroplant. The walk out onto the reservoir’s huge control structures was a hit with the kids and the trip up and down several flights of stairs at the hydroplant did little to diminish their energy, apparently only whetting their appetites for lunch at Ole’s Big Game Steakhouse and Grill. Then it was back on the bus and back to Elwood High School where, as Mrs. Neville informed them, a quiz related to information learned over the past two days would await them in the near future.

Elwood_HS_Morning_Glory

Members of the class look down into the “Morning Glory” spillway.

That announcement drew a few groans, but I’ll be surprised if the students didn’t all “ace” the quiz.

Construction Underway on Pedestrian Bridge over Hike/Bike Trail

Construction Underway on Pedestrian Bridge over Hike/Bike Trail

A Central crew began construction of the pedestrian bridge over the Johnson Lake outlet canal in early October. The last pilings were driven on Oct. 12, setting the stage for construction of the supporting infrastructure and deck.

When completed, the bridge adjacent to the existing road bridge will afford safe crossing of the outlet by users of the lake’s hike/bike trail. The 10-feet-wide bridge will be constructed of wood and rest on steel pilings.

Central used a 30-ton crane equipped with a pile-driver that was positioned on the existing road bridge. Using the existing bridge as a “base” for construction will save on the cost of the bridge. The bridge is scheduled to be completed before Thanksgiving.

Central personnel finish driving the last steel piling for the pedestrian bridge.

Central personnel finish driving the last steel piling for the pedestrian bridge.

Summer Tech Will Treasure Experience for a Lifetime

Summer Tech Will Treasure Experience for a Lifetime

The experience of working at Lake McConaughy is something I’ll hold onto for the rest of my life.

I spent a second summer at Lake McConaughy working as a biological technician for The Central Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation District. The gorgeous landscape that surrounds the huge lake is remarkable and the white sandy beaches make the lake unlike any other I’ve seen. The sandy shorelines make an excellent destination for campers and outdoor enthusiasts from all over, but people are not the only ones utilizing the beaches.

Piping plovers and least terns are small shorebirds that also call Lake McConaughy home during the summer months. These magnificent birds are ground nesters and the fine sandy beaches of Lake Mac make the perfect habitat in which to hide their eggs. But because the birds share their nesting sites with people who are enjoying the lake, their nests are in danger of accidental destruction from getting run over, stepped on, or destroyed by unleashed pets. This is where my job becomes important.

Plover eggs in a nest, a small scrape in the sand, exhibit the camouflage that provides protection. Photo by Dillon Schroeder.

During the early months of the summer – late May and June — a typical day for me would be to survey the beach, searching for plover and tern nests and eggs, which is more difficult than one might imagine. The eggs are slightly smaller than a quarter and blend into the sand extremely well, which is the reason they nest in open, sandy places.

Once a nest is located, certain actions must take place to ensure that it has the greatest possible chance of producing eggs and chicks. In areas where human traffic is heavy, an enclosure is constructed around the nest, consisting of orange flagging and signs to make it as visible as possible to beach-goers. The enclosures are large enough that the bird will feel comfortable sitting on the nest as people drive or walk by. In certain areas around the lake where nests are more frequently established, a much larger enclosure is built. These enclosures could have more than ten nests inside them, and make it possible for the birds and chicks to go all summer without human interaction. As the summer progresses, the eggs begin to hatch and then comes the difficult task of keeping track of all the chicks on the beach until they are old enough to take flight. This can be difficult as the chicks can roam a great distance in either direction in a single day. However, this summer was much different than last.

Early in the summer, we had many much needed rain showers, causing flows in the North Platte River to rise dramatically. This meant a high volume of water flowing into the lake, which raised its elevation by more than a foot a week. The beaches rapidly disappeared as the birds were trying to find a suitable spot to make a nest. Just as the birds would find a site, the location would become inundated by the rising lake. As days passed, more and more birds left the lake in search of different locations to nest. By the end of the July, which is the natural deadline for these birds to make a new nest, we had no successful nests as the lake rose to 97 percent of its capacity. All suitable habitats were covered by water and the birds were forced to leave without having a successful nesting year at the lake. However, these birds tend to be resilient and will surely be back next year to give it another go!

This summer at the lake was one of the most interesting experiences I have had. Watching how the birds reacted to the water rising and seeing them battle each other for territory on what little beach remained was a sight unlike any other. This summer also showed me just how much natural changes can affect the entire ecosystem of the lake. Not only were the birds forced to leave without successfully nesting, but people had to find other areas to park their campers or pitch their tents , which was quite a sight to see. The fishing at Lake Mac quickly became more challenging as the summer went on. As the lake expanded, so did the areas in which fish could forage or take cover. Watching how fisherman reacted and tried new tactics was also interesting to me, as I am an avid fisherman.

All in all, one of the most important lessons I learned this summer is that things don’t always go as planned, but you have to be ready for whatever happens and learn to adapt to the situation that you encounter. I am thankful I am able to come away from this experience with such an important life lesson!

— Tony Jenniges is a senior at the University of Nebraska-Kearney, majoring in wildlife management with plans to enter a master’s program in the same field. He has worked two summers for Central, as well as a summer internship with the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. He also has worked for Headwaters, Inc., on tern and plover monitoring at sandpits in the central Platte River area as part of the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program monitoring efforts. In addition, he has participated in whooping crane monitoring by airplane, also a part of the PRRIP monitoring program.

The Supply Canal: Scenic Canoe Trips Await

The Supply Canal: Scenic Canoe Trips Await

Can you identify the locations of these photos?

Supply_Canal_Photo_1(a)Supply_Canal_Photo_3a

SUPPLY_CANAL_PHOTO_5a

No, they weren’t taken along a wild and scenic river, or at some national park. These photos were taken along Central’s Supply Canal, which runs from just east of North Platte to east of Lexington. Many sections of the canal wind through high banks, and narrow canyons.

The public is permitted to use the entire length of the canal for recreational purposes, excluding areas around Central’s three hydroelectric plants and NPPD’s Canaday Steam Plant. Portages around check structures are relatively easy, but getting around the hydroplants requires a lengthier overland trek. Launching a canoe or kayak may be difficult in some spots because of the shoreline protection materials (in most cases, broken concrete riprap). Many sections of the canal are paralleled by maintenance roads or state and county roads. The flow in the canal is relatively constant year-round, the water is 15 to 20 feet deep in most places, and the current is not rapid (no whitewater stretches), although caution should be exercised when approaching check gates.

The 75-mile-long Supply Canal and its many canyon lakes are used for hunting, hiking, canoeing and kayaking, camping and fishing. Only wakeless boating is allowed on the canal to prevent bank erosion.

Also, when planning a canoe or kayak trip, it’s a good idea to remember these helpful hints from the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission:

  • Wear your life jacket.
  • Take a spare paddle.
  • Don’t canoe alone.
  • Have tether ropes on both ends of the canoe.
  • Take insect repellant.
  • Take ample water.
  • Take sunscreen, sunglasses, and wide-brim hat. The sun’s reflection off the water can be intense. If it is hot, start early or later in the day and make the trip shorter.
  • Put extra clothing, gear, and food in water-proof bags.
  • Take rain gear, but not ponchos.
  • Take first aid kit. Learn what poison ivy and poison oak look like, as well as black widow and brown recluse spiders.
  • Avoid contact with livestock and wild animals.
  • Protect your feet with tightfitting wading shoes.
  • Camp only in designated areas. Obtain permission prior to camping on, or entering the water from, private land.
  • Read maps and plan ahead. Be off the water before dark.
  • TRASH: If you create it, e.g., cans, bottles, food wrappers, etc., pack it out. Don’t discard it in the water.
  • Build fires only in fire rings; drown flames and coals after use. If no fire ring exists, use only camp stoves.
  • Use caution when loading and unloading near highway or county bridges.
  • And remember, Nebraska’s weather can be unpredictable and prone to extremes of temperature, humidity, wind and rate of change. Summer storms rapidly form, are fast-moving and can have rain, hail, high winds, lightning, and tornados combined.  Pay attention to signs of bad weather, get off the water and take cover as quickly as possible if a storm is approaching.

Central Hosts Water for Food Institute Researchers

Central Hosts Water for Food Institute Researchers

A group from the Robert B. Daugherty Water for Food Institute (DWFI) visited sites within Central’s irrigation service area on Aug. 18 as part of a workshop aimed at “Understanding the Water-Energy-Food Nexus for Irrigated Agriculture.”

After a catered lunch at Central’s headquarters in Holdrege, the group stopped at a subsurface drip irrigation site near Loomis. The SDI system was installed several years ago as a demonstration project to investigate the use of water delivered from Central’s canal system through buried drip tape on an 8-acre pivot corner. Over the years, crop yields from the acres irrigated by the SDI system have regularly matched or exceeded yields obtained from acres irrigated under the adjacent pivot, while the volume of water has been significantly less than applied by the pivot.

The next stop was at a soybean field where the producer installed a drop-span pivot to enable irrigation of approximately 23 acres that could not be covered by a normal pivot because of obstructions. The system can use either surface water from Central’s canal, or groundwater from a well, although the well has been used sparingly recently. The pivot uses GPS control to automatically stop at the desired point to allow the producer to either disconnect or connect (depending upon which way the pivot is traveling) the drop spans to continue its path through the field.

Central Valley Irrigation representatives from Holdrege, including owner Monte Vonasek and employees Project Manager Jeremiah Johnson and Coordinator Design Manager David Hoferer, were on hand to fully explain the design challenges that had to be overcome to make the system perform the way the producer envisioned. The process of manually connecting or disconnecting the spans can be accomplished in about 15 minutes. By all accounts, the pivot has exceeded expectations and solved what was formerly a perplexing irrigation problem.

The group also visited another pivot-irrigated field – also with the capability of using either canal water or well water – near Johnson Lake. Central Valley Irrigation also provided the equipment and ingenuity to irrigate acres that previously were beyond the reach of a normal pivot. The answer in this instance was a double swing-arm pivot that bends in and out to cover hard-to-reach areas of the field.

Next, the group stopped at one of the sites along the E67 Canal system that has been equipped with telemetry equipment. Equipment was installed this spring to enable collection of data that will facilitate precision irrigation management to conserve water.

UHF radios, digitized flowmeters, rain gauges and solar panels have been installed at 26 sites (approximately 42 more turnouts will be equipped over the next two years). Real-time or near real-time data from those sites, along with data compiled at two automated weather stations in the E67 area, will be available to producers online to use with field evapotranspiration (ET) and water balances data to optimize water management and irrigation efficiency. Field data and graphs can be accessed on any device with an internet connection.

Partners in the E67 telemetry project include Central, McCrometer, the Nebraska Environmental Trust Fund, and University of Nebraska Cooperative Extension.

The group concluded the tour by visiting Central’s nearby Johnson No. 1 Hydroplant just below Johnson Lake. For many tour participants, it was the first opportunity to visit a hydroelectric facility, which was generating at nearly full capacity during the visit.

Participants from DWFI included: Nicholas Brozovic, director of policy; Isidro Campos Rodriguez, post-doctoral research associate; Timothy Foster, post-doctoral research associate; Rachel Herpel, research and outreach coordinator; Jasmine Mausbach, DWFI intern; Christopher Neale, director of research; Paul Noel, program associate; Patricia Song, DWFI intern; and Richael Young, program associate.

Other workshop attendees who were on the tour included: Rosemary Carroll, assistant research professor in hydrologic sciences at the Desert Research Institute in Reno, Nev.; Yusuke Kuwayama, Resources for the Future fellow, Washington, DC; Taro Mieno, assistant professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln; Mani Rouhi Rad, Ph.D. student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; and Cameron Speir, an economist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center in Santa Cruz, Calif.

Central extends special thanks to the gentlemen from Central Valley Irrigation for sharing their time and expertise; to Rachel Herpel for bringing the group to south-central Nebraska; to McCrometer’s Paul Tipling for helping to explain the telemetry project; and to producers Scott Ford, John Ford, and Willie Knoerzer (a member of Central’s board of directors) for taking the time to explain their innovative pivot operations to the group.

The DWFI group at J-1 Hydroplant.

The DWFI group at J-1 Hydroplant.


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