All posts by Jeff Buettner

South Platte Flows on the Rise

South Platte Flows on the Rise

Precipitation in recent days in Colorado’s South Platte River watershed has raised flows in the South Platte River entering Nebraska.  The South Platte River is expected to experience increased flows in Nebraska through next week, and may cause some flooding problems in some areas.  (See charts below from the National Weather Service.)

Image3_Julesburg_gauge_5-11-15

Image2_Roscoe_gauge_5-11-15

In anticipation of flows in the Platte River being above target flows set by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Central’s board of directors met in a special board meeting on Fri., May 8 and approved (subject to legal review and approval by the other parties) agreements to divert excess river flows into the E65 Canal and Elwood Reservoir for groundwater recharge purposes and to augment instream flows.

The agreements are part of efforts by Central, Tri-Basin Natural Resources District, the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources, the Nebraska Community Foundation, and the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program to utilize excess flows for beneficial purposes.

Pumping Water into Elwood Reservoir

Pumping Water into Elwood Reservoir

elwood_lake_strip_photo

The Central Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation District is in the process of partially filling Elwood Reservoir in preparation for the 2015 irrigation season.

With irrigation customers limited to 12 inches/acre over the coming irrigation season, a completely full Elwood Reservoir will not be necessary.  Instead, Central will divert 15,000 acre-feet of water into Elwood, raising the reservoir’s elevation to about 2,602 feet by the end of May.  The normal maximum elevation is 2,607 feet.

By limiting the amount of water pumped into the reservoir, Central will be able to conserve thousands of acre-feet in Lake McConaughy.  Central’s storage rights require that water pumped into Elwood Reservoir for irrigation purposes must be a transfer of storage water from Lake McConaughy.

To accomplish the fill schedule, Central plans to operate two of the three pumps at the Carl T. Curtis Pump Station in April, and then use one pump during May to reach the intended level.  The pumping process will raise the reservoir’s elevation by 14 feet between April 1 and the end of May.

In addition to providing water for irrigation customers, inflows into the reservoir will benefit the fishery at the lake, as well as providing some incidental groundwater recharge benefits.  Central, in cooperation with Tri-Basin NRD and the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources, had diverted 15,000 acre-feet into the reservoir for groundwater recharge last year – water that was in excess of target flows and other uses in the Platte River – and then added another 15,000 acre-feet for recharge purposes in December and January.  Water that is pumped into the reservoir is allowed to seep into the ground, thereby helping the area’s groundwater level, as well as augmenting base flows in the Platte River as the water eventually moves underground back to the river.

Curtis Technical Agriculture School Students Experience Central’s Project

Curtis Technical Agriculture School Students Experience Central’s Project

Students from the University of Nebraska Technical Agriculture School in Curtis enjoyed a “mini-tour” of parts of Central’s hydro-irrigation project on a recent October day.

Eleven NCTA students, shepherded by Assistant Professor of Agronomy Brad Ramsdale and Dick Neel, the Nebraska Farm Bureau Federation’s regional director of membership, who facilitated the tour, met Central personnel at the Lake McConaughy Visitors Center after spending a few hours touring sites in the Republican River Basin.

After going through the Water Interpretive Center and viewing a video about the many benefits from water in the Platte River Basin, the group went out on Kingsley Dam and Lake McConaughy’s control structures. Kingsley Dam Foreman Nate Nielsen then explained the workings of the Kingsley Hydroplant – where several of the students seemed to take a particular interest in the plant’s “socket and wrench set” – before stopping at Ole’s Big Game Bar and Grill in Paxton for lunch courtesy of Central.

Img_3069

Kingsley Dam Foreman Nate Nielsen (center) explains the operation of the Kingsley Hydroplant on the generator floor.

Img_3072

One of the NCTA students hoists a wrench used for maintenance tasks at Kingsley Hydroplant.

Then it was off to the Gothenburg Control Center, where Electrical Superintendent Devin Brundage explained Central’s highly automated system for monitoring and controlling water all the way through its hydro-irrigation project. The students then participated in a discussion about the history and impact of the federal Endangered Species Act before heading back to campus and (presumably) their homework.

According to Dick Neel, the tour was an opportunity for the students to “gain an understanding of how the water system of Nebraska works, as well as why it works.”

“Prehistoric Fish” Stocked in Two Central Supply Canal Lakes

“Prehistoric Fish” Stocked in Two Central Supply Canal Lakes
paddlefish-underwater-polyodon-spathula

American paddlefish

The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission recently stocked 990 paddlefish in two small lakes along The Central Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation District’s Supply Canal.

Gallagher Canyon and Midway lakes, as well as the Supply Canal that conveys water to the lakes, were determined to be suitable habitat for the fish, which were about 12 inches long when placed in the lakes in September. However, paddlefish commonly grow as long as five feet and weigh up to 60 pounds. According to information from the U.S. Geological Survey, the largest paddlefish ever caught in the United States was 85 inches long, weighed 198 pounds and was speared in Iowa’s Lake Okoboji in 1916. Nebraska’s state record paddlefish was snagged below Gavins Point Dam in 2011. That specimen weighed 107 pounds and measured 51-3/4 inches long.

Paddlefish usually seek riverine habitat with deep water and low currents or areas such as side channels or backwaters, making the Supply Canal and the canyon lakes ideal for such fish. Nationwide, paddlefish are found in only 22 states within the Missouri and Mississippi basins.

Paddlefish are characterized by a long snout (the paddle from which its name is derived), called a rostrum, which makes up about one-third of the fish’s length. Thousands of tiny pores are located on the rostrum, which act as electro-receptors that allow the fish to sense weak electrical fields emitted by its miniscule prey. They are filter feeders, swimming slowly with their large mouths open so that zooplankton pass over gill rakers that strain the tiny organisms from the water.

“As filter feeders, they will compete with carp and suckers for food,” said Central Senior Biologist Mark Peyton. “Stocking paddlefish in these lakes may provide another wonderful opportunity for recreation on our canal system and I fully support the efforts.”

Peyton mentioned a recent precedent for paddlefish surviving in reservoirs along canals in western Nebraska that suggests that paddlefish could do well in Central’s canal and lakes. In 1996, a 140-pound paddlefish was discovered in Lake Maloney, a regulating reservoir south of North Platte fed by the Sutherland Canal and owned by the Nebraska Public Power District. The huge fish (75 inches long and, at 140 pounds, much heavier than the current state record) was found floating in the reservoir with a wound caused by a boat propeller, although it was not clear whether the wound killed the fish, or if the fish was dead when struck by the boat.

According to an NGPC spokesman’s comments to the media at the time, it was suspected that the fish escaped from an NGPC holding pond connected to the reservoir in the 1950s or ‘60s. The huge fish was estimated to have been between 40 and 60 years old.

Paddlefish are often referred to as “prehistoric” fish because fossil records indicate that the fish first appeared 300 to 400 million years (pre-dating the “Age of Dinosaurs” by 50 million years).

The fish is protected under state and federal laws, but can be caught during limited seasons by holders who have special permits (for more information, see the NGPC’s web site). However, because the paddlefish grows at a relatively slow rate and take years to reach reproductive age, it will be many years before the population in the canal system is able to sustain a fishing season. In addition, while the canal and canyon lakes may be places where the paddlefish can thrive, it is not known whether the fish will successfully reproduce in the new habitat.

The NGPC intends to continue its stocking efforts for several years, using young fish raised at the Calamus and North Platte hatcheries. For now, the Missouri River is the closest place for Nebraskans to catch paddlefish, but it is hoped that the population will grow to the point that a season can be established in Central’s Supply Canal and canyon lakes.

 

From the Archives: Dam Named in Honor of George P. Kingsley

From the Archives: Dam Named in Honor of George P. Kingsley

(Reproduced verbatim from the Hastings Daily Tribune, July 7, 1937)

Major Tri-County Unit Will Memorialize George P. Kingsley, Pioneer Project Leader

The Trico board of directors late yesterday took steps to adopt the name Kingsley Dam for the major unit of the Tri-County power and irrigation district.

George P. Kingsley

George P. Kingsley

The name thus chosen memorializes the late George P. Kingsley, who throughout the last 20 years of his life contributed more in means, time and energy to this particular public works movement than any other person.

Heretofore the unit has been informally called the Keystone dam, because the location is close to the town of Keystone. The latter, however, is below the dam and bears no relation to the unit except proximity, and that is a matter of some four or five miles.

George P. Kingsley was the father of Dr. D.W. Kingsley who has been president of the district organization since it was organized under the law known as Senate File No. 310. He piloted the movement through its most discouraging stages, never faltering in the face of almost insurmountable obstacles, and donating constantly to the funds which were required for its promotion.

Countless trips to Washington, long stays at Washington and at the state capitol, attendance at meetings without number in Nebraska, and unceasing labor with scientists, technical persons, industrial leaders and others who had a part in shaping the project and bringing it to the favorable attention of the public, were all a part of Kingsley’s contribution.

The action of the Trico board is in full compliance with the PWA rule forbidding the naming of public works units after living persons. Though an exception was made in the case of the Norris, dam, the rule otherwise has been invariably observed with reference to all structural units of major importance.

The death of George Kingsley preceded the approval of Tri-County by the president and the public works administration.

Though he did not live to see the full realization of the dream to which he and a few others had dedicated the later years of their lives, he had definitely concluded that on the basis of merit and the opportunity provided through the government’s enlarged participation in public works that sooner or later constructions and operation of the project was inevitable.

Authority was given by the board of a request to PWA that the official name be recorded in the files, maps, charts and other records at Washington.

The Kingsley Dam will create a lake that will extend back the river for a distance of 23 miles. It will be one of the largest inland bodies of water in America, next to the Great Lakes, and the dam itself in size will rank second in the world to Fort Peck in the earth fill classification.

From the Archives: Dam Worker Lives to Tell Story of Trip through Pipeline

From the Archives: Dam Worker Lives to Tell Story of Trip through Pipeline

Reprinted from the Hastings Daily Tribune, January 1940

Human Interest – Dam Worker Lives to Tell of Being Swept Through Trico Dam Drain Pipe

Human interest stories are sprinkled through the many years of Tri-County promotion.

Human interest stories have also cropped up at frequent intervals during the huge construction program. There has been humor and tragedy.

Best story of recent months coming from the far-flung construction front could have been tragic. It wasn’t, and its very hair-raising details would make it subject matter for the writers of those stories which keep you holding your breath but always turn out all right in the end.

Here are the details:

Robert McCoy, 26, on December 6, 1939, was employed by the contractors building the huge earth fill at Kingsley Dam. He and a companion were on a boat tending the openings from which water drains from what is known as the “core pool,” the body of water visible in the central picture on the front of this section of the Tapeline (see photo below).

The core pool is formed by the clay and water pumped from the hills south of the dam. The water brings the clay, the clay settles to form the impervious core of the dam. The core is built up by the dredging of loess soil from the hard ground south of the river, while the bulk of the dam is given form by the piling up of sand dredged from the river bed.

Look at the panoramic view of the incompleted dam. You will see a small speck near the center of the view, to the left of the long line which is the pipe carrying clay from the hillside to the core pool. That speck is the opening of a 24-inch pipe, one of several. (The “speck” is not visible in the accompanying photo, which is not the same one published in the Hastings Daily Tribune.) This pipe and its companions serve to drain water from the core pool after the silt has settled to its permanent place in the huge fill.

Getting back to McCoy. He fell off his boat and was caught in the rush of water into the pipe. He went in feet first, dropped about 300 feet, made the right angle turn at an elbow and was bumped along for some 500 feet through the 24-inch corrugated pipe to the outlet at the upstream toe of the dam.

His companion was helpless. When McCoy disappeared, the only thought of the man left on the boat was how to get the body out of the pipe. It would be lodged in the elbow, he assumed.

This second man hurried to a nearby shack to report to fellow workers. He had barely explained the situation when up from the toe of the dam came McCoy. He entered the shack and collapsed.

Considerable muddy water was pumped from his lungs. He was ill for a few days and his face was mighty sore from being knocked against the corrugated pipe. Otherwise, there is nothing else to the story, as it is told by the Tri-County workmen who have looked over the scene and are still wondering how McCoy lived to tell about it.

The story has served to clarify for more than one person – this writer for example – the significance of the core pool in the dam project.

Kingsley Dam construction 497

Platte Basin Time-lapse & Crane Trust Tour Central’s Project

Platte Basin Time-lapse & Crane Trust Tour Central’s Project

Central personnel had the opportunity to take an interesting group of people on a tour of the hydro-irrigation project this summer, a group with more than just a passing interest in the Platte River.

Representatives from the Platte Basin Time-lapse Project and the Crane Trust, Inc., spent two days exploring many aspects of Central’s hydro-irrigation project, including parts of the irrigated area, the Jeffrey Island Habitat Area, Johnson Lake, the Gothenburg Control Center, the Jeffrey Hydroplant, Kingsley Dam and Lake McConaughy and the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission’s Lake McConaughy Water Interpretive Center.  Central’s two summer employees — college students studying wildlife ecology — who monitored nests established by least terns and piping plovers at Lake McConaughy also participated in the tour.

Time lapse crane trust central interns 2014 tour

Representatives of the Platte Basin Time-lapse Project, the Crane Trust and two of Central’s summer employees who monitored nesting by least terns and piping plovers at Lake McConaughy gather for a group picture on the Hilltop above Kingsley Dam.

In 2011, photographer Mike Forsberg and Nebraska Educational Telecommunications (NET) film producer Michael Farrell began a project to examine and document the growing demands of agriculture, municipalities, power generation, recreation and wildlife on the Platte Basin. The Platte Basin Time-lapse Project (PBT) is the result of that effort. The PBT is a private/public partnership with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and NET, with support from numerous other organizations. By compressing time through time-lapse camera technology, various moments in the river’s processes can be seen in ways normally not perceptible. It also allows viewers to increase their understanding and appreciation of the Platte River and its importance to our region.

About 40 solar-powered time-lapse cameras are currently installed at important locations throughout the Platte Basin. The cameras automatically take one photo every daylight hour of everyday, allowing the capture of a moment in time. When stitched together — days, months, and years go by in minutes — the images provide a unique perspective about the many forces that act upon the river and the dynamics that fit together to shape the river from headwaters to mouth.

PBT staff created an interactive map after the tour that helps explain the hydro-irrigation project and its importance to the State of Nebraska.

The Crane Trust is a non-profit organization devoted to the protection and enhancement of habitats for whooping cranes, sandhill cranes and other migratory birds along the Big Bend Region of the Platte River Valley in Nebraska.

The Crane Trust was formed in 1978 as part of a court-approved settlement of a controversy over the construction of Grayrocks Dam on a tributary of the Platte River in Wyoming. The state of Nebraska and the National Wildlife Federation objected to the project, claiming it would jeopardize irrigation and wildlife downstream in Nebraska. The settlement satisfied requirements of the Endangered Species Act and allowed the Missouri Basin Power Project, owners of Grayrocks, to complete construction. The Crane Trust was funded by a payment from the Missouri Basin Power Project, and income from the endowment is used to finance land acquisition. The Trust is administered by three trustees who are appointed by the three participants in the settlement.

Once on opposite sides of the fence in how Platte River habitat should be managed, Central and the Crane Trust are now working together to ensure that there is enough water to provide all of the benefits – irrigated agriculture, power production, recreation, wildlife habitat, and groundwater recharge — on which Nebraska depends.

Jeffrey Lake Hydro morning horizon by Mike Forsbert

Sunrise over Jeffrey Hydroplant. (Photo by Mike Forsberg)

 

4th of July Weekend at Lake McConaughy

4th of July Weekend at Lake McConaughy
Crowds on beaches of Lake McConaughy

Crowds on beaches of Lake McConaughy. (Photo by Nate Nielsen)

The combination of almost perfect weather and a three-day weekend – not to mention the inviting water and beaches of Lake McConaughy – produced a record number of visitors to Central’s storage reservoir over the Fourth of July weekend.

The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission reported that 181,147 visitor-days were recorded for the July 4-6 weekend. The previous record was 142,446 in 2010 when July 4 fell on a Sunday. A visitor-day is one person per day, so if a person stayed for three days, that would result in a count of three visitor-days. Using those figures, an average of more than 60,000 people were at the Lake McConaughy/Lake Ogallala recreation areas each day.

The NGPC reported that all 325 camping pads in their modern campground were occupied. Nate Nielsen, Central’s foreman at Kingsley Dam, reported that the beaches and shorelines were lined with campers and tents, in some places four and five rows deep.

The Keith County News reported that businesses catering to lake visitors, including restaurants and convenience stores, were busy throughout the weekend with large, steady crowds of customers.

Law enforcement officials reported no serious problems, although the local sheriff’s office, the State Patrol and fire and rescue crews were extraordinarily busy responding to various emergencies, accidents, traffic issues, incidents, and complaints. All in all, though, a family-friendly atmosphere predominated and fun, recreation and relaxation ruled the weekend.

Nielsen also reported that the crowds of people did an excellent job of avoiding tern and plover nesting areas. Central personnel helped patrol the areas and reported no incidents of nest disturbances.

Johnson Lake near Lexington also drew large crowds. Larry Ossenkop, clerk of the Sanitation Improvement District at the lake, used water usage figures to provide an estimate of about 6,500 people at the homes, cabins and campgrounds over the weekend. Water levels were favorable, the weather was near perfect (although Sunday’s temperatures rose to somewhat steamy levels) and the lake was busy with watercraft of all shapes and sizes.

Spring Inflows Boost Lake McConaughy

Spring Inflows Boost Lake McConaughy

Spring has been good to Lake McConaughy this year, both in terms of inflows and outflows: quite a bit of the former and not so much of the latter. Several factors combined to bring about these circumstances.

First, snowpack in both the North Platte River Basin and the South Platte River Basin was well above median (normal) levels. When the spring melt began, the water began flowing into storage reservoirs. Despite the fact that the federal reservoirs on the North Platte River in Wyoming were well below normal in terms of carry-over storage, the mere fact that storage supplies were being replenished was good news.

Entering May, there was little cause for optimism. During a period when inflows to Lake McConaughy historically begin to rise, inflows were relatively flat and hovering around 60% of normal. However, shortly after the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation began moving water from its larger upstream reservoirs down to Glendo Reservoir in preparation for releases to irrigation canals in eastern Wyoming and western Nebraska, the lower basin was hit with a series of heavy snowfall and precipitation events. The additional inflow pushed Glendo Reservoir into its flood pool and water was released down the North Platte River to make room for the extra water entering Glendo.

As a result, Lake McConaughy benefited from an unexpected spike in inflows that lasted from mid-May until the middle of June. Central’s main storage reservoir – thought to have peaked in early May – rose to a second peak near the end of June before inflows diminished, falling back below historic median flow rates.

At the same time, high flows in the South Platte River resulting from heavy snowmelt runoff and precipitation from spring thunderstorms entered Nebraska. For a period of several weeks, Central could hold water in Lake McConaughy and divert excess South Platte water into the Supply Canal to help fill the irrigation canals. Water in excess of amounts that could be diverted continued on down the Platte River, exceeding the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s target flows for wildlife habitat purposes and allowing Central to divert excess flows into Elwood Reservoir for groundwater recharge purposes in both the Platte and Republican River basins. As of June 24, Elwood Reservoir’s elevation had gone up by more than eight feet.

“Sharing the Shoreline” at Lake McConaughy

“Sharing the Shoreline” at Lake McConaughy

Summer’s arrival (technically on June 21) means the beaches at Lake McConaughy are once again attracting crowds of visitors to enjoy the warm weather, swimming, camping and many other recreational pursuits. It also means the return of another group of visitors — piping plovers and interior least terns – two species of shorebirds that build nests and raise chicks on the beaches of Nebraska’s largest reservoir.

Piping plovers are a small (five to six inches long) sand-colored bird with a white breast and a single dark ring around the throat. Smaller than a robin, plovers have orange legs and an orange bill with a black tip. They are also recognizable by their “peep-lo” whistle, a sound beach-goers may hear before they can see the small and well camouflaged birds. Another characteristic that can aid in identification is the “broken wing” act the parent birds perform when an intruder nears their nests. The birds will feign injury, hoping to draw the intruder away from the nests and chicks.

Plover photo 3 265
Piping plover on eggs

Like piping plovers, interior least terns build nests by scraping out a small bowl in the sand in which to lay eggs. Least terns are small (eight to nine inches) gray-white birds with black outer wing tips and yellow legs and bills. The tail is slightly forked and the head is capped with a black patch of feathers above a white forehead. Least terns are more aggressive in defense of their nests, diving at predators and often dropping excrement on anyone or anything that draws to close.

Tern - 5
Interior least tern

Piping plovers and least terns are already present and tending their nests, so it is once again time for Big Mac visitors to being the annual practice of “Sharing the Shoreline.” Although the nesting process is a little behind normal this year because of cool, damp conditions during the spring, the number of nests is expected to increase over the coming days. There are, as of June 11, five large enclosures in which a number of nests are located, two on the south shore and three on the north. Nests may also be located in other areas outside the existing enclosures.

Plover nest and eggs 259
Plover nest at Lake McConaughy

Predation and severe weather are the most common causes of nest and chick loss among the species, but human disturbance can also result in nest destruction. Central locates and marks the birds’ nesting areas, so if visitors see signs or temporary fencing that indicate the presence of the birds and their nests, please avoid those areas. Also, remember to keep pets on leashes at all times when on the beaches and campgrounds. Failure to do so is a violation of a Nebraska Game and Parks Commission regulation and – since plovers are listed as threatened species and terns as endangered species under the Endangered Species Act – disturbance of nests or birds can result in a fine, jail term, or impoundment of any vehicle used in a nest disturbance. The best action to take upon encountering a nest site is to AVOID IT COMPLETELY!

Please help protect the birds and preserve Lake McConaughy’s beaches as the outstanding place for outdoor recreation that they are by “SHARING THE SHORELINE!”

 


1 2 3 4 5 6
Facebook