Central marks 75th anniversary of irrigation deliveries from Lake McConaughy

Central marks 75th anniversary of irrigation deliveries from Lake McConaughy

It was 1942.  Kingsley Dam had been closed the preceding year and Lake McConaughy was just beginning to fill.  In just under a year and a half, almost 840,000 acre-feet of water had been stored behind the dam.

This summer Central will reach a milestone:  75 years of delivering storage water from Lake McConaughy through its canal system.  In the irrigation service area (Gosper, Phelps and Kearney counties), farmers on almost 45,000 acres had signed contracts with Central for delivery of irrigation water. 

Although Central had been bringing water to the area since the spring of 1938 from a temporary diversion point on the Platte River east of Lexington, the deliveries were limited to about 3,300 acres near the river and functioned mostly as an opportunity for area farmers to learn how to best utilize water on their fields. 

Central sponsored demonstration days to show irrigation equipment and practices.  One such “irrigation school” of note was conducted on April 28-29, 1938 by Ivan Wood, an irrigation specialist from the University of Nebraska Agricultural College’s Extension Service.  Held at the Henry Peterson farm eight miles northwest of Holdrege, the school attracted an estimated 10,000 people over two days.  Wood demonstrated various instruments for leveling ground, making farm laterals, the use of canvas dams or light, steel dams for shutting off water or raising water levels in a lateral, the use of homemade lath box turnouts and how to distribute water over the field in the most practical manner.

Irrigation demonstration: Central District customers learned how to best use the newly arrived irrigation water on their farms. The first “irrigation schools” were held in 1938 on Phelps County farms and continued through the early years of the canals’ operations.

Corn yields jumped from an average of 28 bu./acre in the 1920s to more than 100 bu./acre on irrigated ground under improved farming practices during the 1940s.  The ability to irrigate was probably the most significant factor in increasing yields and producing a crop every year, even during dry periods.

But in 1942, there remained some uncertainty about how beneficial – and necessary — these new canals would be.  Most of the area had received decent rainfall during May and June, but – as often happens in Nebraska — July and August turned out to be hot and dry.  The new irrigation canals bringing water to the area proved to be a blessing for those who had delivery service contracts with Central.  Success bred success and by the end of the decade, the number of acres under irrigation doubled as more producers saw the advantages of irrigation.

A Central irrigation customer stands next to his farm lateral — equipped with wooden lath boxes through which water flowed from farm lateral to furrow (lower left corner) — and smiles at the good fortune of being able to irrigate his crops.

One such farmer was Laverne Johnson, who had started farming in the 1930s, right in the middle of one of the most brutal droughts Nebraska has ever experienced.  Johnson, who years later would serve two terms on Central’s board of directors, had been a supporter of the irrigation project during the struggle to gain approval and funds to build the project.  But from his perspective, he didn’t know if the project would be built in time to save him from ruin.

In the early 1990s, he recalled the difficulties he experienced during his first years of farming and the elation of seeing irrigation water come to his farm.

He explained that he was nearing the breaking point in the late ‘30s, having experienced crop failures and poor harvests time and again because of the lack of rainfall.

“I was almost to the point that I had to start thinking about another way to make a living, because I was just hanging on by my fingernails,” he said.  “I was excited when I learned that the project had been approved and would soon be built, but I still didn’t know if I’d be able to keep farming long enough for the water to get to me.”

Then he emotionally recalled the moment after the canals had been completed and he first saw water making its way down to his fields.

“I just dropped to my knees,” he said, “and cried like a baby because I knew at that point everything was going to be all right.”

And it was.  Over the years, Johnson would expand his farming operation, putting the additional acres under irrigation from the canals and later from wells as the groundwater table beneath the area began to rise because of recharge from the canal system.

Laverne passed away in 2001, but today the farm that he thought he was going to lose remains in his family largely because of the reliable source of water in Lake McConaughy that enabled him, and many others like him, to prosper instead of being driven from the land by the whims of nature.

 

UNK Research Students Complete 15th Annual Project Tour

UNK Research Students Complete 15th Annual Project Tour

Students from the University of Nebraska-Kearney had the opportunity to expand their knowledge of Nebraska’s natural resources during a tour of The Central Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation District’s hydropower-irrigation project on May 29 and June 1.

 
It was the 15th annual UNK tour, a milestone that demonstrates a commitment by several individuals who have been of UNK’s Summer Student Research Program (SSRP) over the years, perhaps none moreso than John Falconer, director of the Office of Sponsored Programs. Falconer has organized UNK’s participation in the tour of Central’s project each year since the tour’s inception, including making the trek to Lincoln to transport canoes for a trip down Central’s Supply Canal (more about that later).

 
The SSRP supports independent student research and scholarly activity each summer. It is open to students from all disciplines, and is structured to enrich the educational experience in several ways.

 
First, SSRP enables students to engage in original research and creative activity under the guidance of a faculty mentor. This opportunity to work closely with an expert gives the student a chance to expand their knowledge of a chosen academic discipline. Also, because the research is independent of a structured classroom setting, students experience the excitement and challenges of applying their knowledge and skills to solve problems. Finally, students draw on their general studies coursework and learn about research in other disciplines, broadening their understanding of the differences and connections between various fields of study.

Students and faculty mentors pose for a photograph atop the headgates of the Supply Canal near North Platte.

The tour of Central’s project provided students – most of whom had no background in agriculture or natural resources – a first-hand look at how water resources provide multiple benefits to Nebraska. The tour stopped at several sites and facilities within the District to see examples of these benefits.

 
The students first visited a site where irrigation water is applied to fields through a sub-surface drip system. The water is diverted from a small irrigation lateral through a filter system and then through buried drip lines to the crop’s root system. SDI irrigation is extremely efficient in that it reduces evaporation and deep percolation losses that may be present with other irrigation methods. Nitrogen fertilizer can also be applied through the system, literally spoon-feeding nutrients to the growing crop during the irrigation process. Producers employing SDI systems regularly see equal or better yields from SDI acres as compared to pivot-irrigated fields with generally less application of water.

Four to a wrench: Young ladies from the UNK Summer Student Research Program hoist one of the wrenches on hand for maintenance at the Kingsley Hydroplant. And it’s not even the biggest wrench!

The group also examined (briefly, because of a passing rain shower!) an example of “outside-the-box” thinking during a stop at a “drop-span” pivot system. The pivot, which can use either water from Central’s canal system, or from an irrigation well, is located on a half-section that includes obstacles that prevent the pivot from reaching a portion of the field. The solution, implemented by the producer and a local pivot dealer, was to install a pivot that allowed the producer to disconnect spans and towers to allow the pivot to reach more than 30 acres that were previously unable to be covered by the pivot. The pivot then reverses, stops at the location where the spans were dropped off, picks up the disconnected spans (with minimal labor by the producer), and continues over the rest of the field.

 
The group also stopped at a site that is part of the E67 Telemetry Project. The E67 Canal system includes three miles of membrane-lined canal; the rest of the delivery system was converted from open laterals to buried pipelines several years ago. Each turnout in the E67 area (approximately 6,000 acres) is equipped with UHF radio transmitters, digital flowmeters and rain gauges powered by and solar panels. Two automated weather stations measure wind speed and direction, temperature, relative humidity, net solar radiation, and precipitation to calculate evapotranspiration rates of the crops.

 
The data is transmitted to a base station at the nearby Johnson No. 1 Hydroplant and then via the internet to a McCrometer server where sorting and calculations are done. Field data and graphs can be picked up online by a producer’s PC, tablet or smartphone that has internet access.

 
The data allows precision irrigation management of these fields which saves water. Producers can start each morning with an up-to date view of graphs that show their field water balances. The information allows the producer to know where and when they need to start irrigating. Additionally, in a rain event, they will know total rainfall for the day, accumulated every 15 minutes on each field (or a nearby one) and know which irrigation systems can be shut down immediately or if they should keep running through a small rain event. There should never be water stress on a field again.

 
Additional components are available and producers have the option to add such equipment as pressure gauges, soil moisture probes, pivot lateral position, etc. The E67 Telemetry Project came about as a cooperative venture by Central, McCrometer, UNL Extension and the Nebraska Environmental Trust Fund.

 
From there, the group journeyed to the Jeffrey Island wildlife habitat area, a 4,000-acre area owned and managed by Central for the benefit of wildlife. Dave Zorn, Central’s senior biologist, explained the management process and how Central has worked over the years to convert pastureland beset by musk thistle and other noxious weeds into suitable habitat for various species of birds, reptiles, amphibians and mammals.

 
The next stop was at the Gothenburg Control Center, where Gothenburg Division Manager Devin Brundage explained how the vast system is remotely and automatically operated from the Control Center, moving water almost 200 miles through a series of canals, lakes, pump stations, pipelines and hydroplants from Lake McConaughy to east of Minden.

 
The students then stopped at the Jeffrey Hydroplant near Brady to learn about the clean, renewable generation of electricity at one of the four hydroplants on Central’s system.

 
After a delicious catered dinner at Jeffrey Lodge, the students spent the night at the lodge to rest up for a second full day of exploration, education, and physical exertion.

 
Early the next morning, the group departed for Lake McConaughy where Kingsley Dam Foreman Nate Nielsen guided them through the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission’s Water Interpretive Center, the outlet structures for Lake McConaughy and the Kingsley Hydroplant.

Nate Nielsen (top right, gray shirt), Central’s Kingsley Dam foreman, explains the workings of the Kingsley Hydroplant to UNK students and members of a second tour group from Dawson County.

After lunch, the group set out for their final stop, a point just below Midway Lake, to conclude the tour with a 5.5-mile canoe trip down the Supply Canal to the Gallagher Canyon Lake State Recreation Area. For many, it was their first opportunity to paddle a canoe and, despite some inexperience and subsequent sore muscles, the trip was completed in less than two hours.

We made it! Two UNK students reach the boat ramp at Gallagher Canyon State Recreation Area after a 5.5-mile canoe trip down the Supply Canal.

To recap, the students saw examples of efficient crop irrigation, wildlife habitat, renewable energy generation, recreation and groundwater recharge.

 
Student participants on the tour were Molly Dibben, Stephanie Paulsen, Audrey Codina, Luke Hamilton, Sidney Trenhaile, Nathan Ott, Gamaliel Alcaraz, Sarah Strawn and Kendall Schumacher. Faculty mentors included Dr. Peter Longo, political science professor and interim dean of the College of Natural and Social Sciences; Dr. Mark Ellis, professor and chairman of UNK’s history department; and Dr. David Vaile, assistant professor of history.

Flow attenuation plan designed to protect nesting habitat

Flow attenuation plan designed to protect nesting habitat

With the summer months approaching, Central would like to provide a reminder about operations at Johnson Lake, specifically the requirement to adhere to a plan to protect nesting habitat for two threatened/endangered avian species along the Platte River.

The Flow Attenuation Plan, or “Spike-Flow Plan” (Plan), was developed several years ago with input from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. It is intended to help attenuate (reduce) flows on the Platte River below the Overton measuring gauge during the least tern and piping plover nesting seasons.

The Plan is designed to keep Platte River levels at lower levels, thus reducing the chances of flooding nests located on sandbars. The Plan requires Central to use Elwood Reservoir and up to 2,500 acre-feet of space in Johnson Lake and immediately above the J-2 Hydroplant to help attenuate river flows. It enables Central to respond to large rain events during the irrigation season and reduce the release of rejected irrigation water to the river.

Water is released from Lake McConaughy during the irrigation season to serve more than 100,000 irrigated acres primarily in Gosper, Phelps and Kearney counties. Water from Lake McConaughy takes four to five days to travel the 125 miles to the headworks of the irrigation systems. The Supply Canal also collects rainfall runoff in its watershed, so its flow may vary beyond what is diverted at the North Platte Diversion Dam.

On occasion, large rainfall events occur in the Platte River basin and Central’s irrigated area. Heavy rainfall increases river flows and often prompts many irrigators to stop taking water. Since these rain events sometimes occur with little notice, and water has already been released to meet irrigation demands, a large quantity of water may be moving through Central’s system when it isn’t needed for irrigation (remember the travel time between Lake McConaughy and the irrigated area). This excess water must either be regulated in Central’s system or returned to the river. Returning the water to the river means losing precious storage water for irrigation purposes.

To have 2,500 acre-feet of space in Johnson Lake to hold rain and rejected irrigation water, the lake must be kept at the lower end of normal levels. From June 1 to Aug. 15 each year, Johnson Lake will be operated near the low end of the normal operation range (see Johnson Lake Elevation Graph) so that space is available if attenuation is required. When attenuating flows, Johnson Lake levels will increase until the water is released to the river at low flows or diverted to the irrigation canals. The water levels will then decline to the lower end of the operating range in preparation for another attenuation event.

NCTA Students Tour Part of Central’s Project

NCTA Students Tour Part of Central’s Project

Another group of students from the Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture in Curtis recently visited Kingsley Dam and Lake McConaughy.

Brad Ramsdale, PhD, professor of agronomy at NCTA, accompanied the students as he has several times in the past.

The group first listened to a presentation by Nate Nielsen, Central’s Kingsley Dam foreman, about Central’s hydro-irrigation project before the group visited the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission’s Water Interpretive Center where they learned about the various uses and importance of water.

After viewing a video that detailed the construction of Kingsley Dam and a five-minute audio presentation about water resources in the Platte River Basin, the group headed out to get a first-hand look at the “Morning Glory” spillway and the Control Tower, the outlet structures for Kingsley Dam. The group also toured the Kingsley Hydroplant where Nielsen described in detail the operation of the state’s largest hydroelectric plant.

Kingsley Dam Foreman Nate Nielsen explains the operation of the Kingsley Hydroplant to NCTA students.

After leaving Lake McConaughy, the students stopped at Paxton to observe the “Big Cut” through the hills north of the town and NPPD’s siphon that conveys water from the North Platte River into the South Platte basin.  The group then enjoyed lunch at Ole’s Big Game Bar and Restaurant.

The day concluded with a stop at Central’s Gothenburg Control Center where Gothenburg Division Manager Devin Brundage briefed the group on the operation of Central’s supervisory control and data acquisition system (SCADA) that controls and monitors flows in the Supply Canal and irrigation canals, generation at four hydroplants, and many other aspects of Central’s hydro-irrigation project.

Central thanks the group for visiting and looks forward to future visits by Dr. Ramsdale’s students.

Planning Under Way for Water & Natural Resources Tour

Planning Under Way for Water & Natural Resources Tour

The date is still months away, but not too early to begin thinking about the annual Water and Natural Resources Tour organized by the Nebraska Water Center and The Central Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation District.

This year’s tour will take place on June 27-29. The destination will be Nebraska’s west-central Platte River Basin between Elm Creek and Lake McConaughy.

“This is a critical stretch of the Platte River that has many-faceted and far-reaching impacts on all Nebraskans,” said Steve Ress communicator for the Nebraska Water Center, which is part of the Robert B. Daugherty Water for Food Global Institute. “It is tremendously important for agriculture, Nebraska’s economy, recreation, hydropower production, fish and wildlife habitat and many other interests.”

The Water and Natural Resources Tour began more than 40 years ago as an idea of then UNL Chancellor D.B. “Woody” Varner. What was originally an irrigation tour has evolved over the years into a broad investigation of many water and environmental topics relevant to Nebraska.

Tentative stops and topics on the tour include an organic farming operation; facilities related to Central’s hydro-irrigation project, including Kingsley Dam and Lake McConaughy; the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission’s Water Interpretive Center at Lake McConaughy; projects underway by Platte Basin Natural Resources Districts; the Frito-Lay corn Handling Facility at Gothenburg and Monsanto’s Water Utilization Learning Center at Gothenburg; UNL’s West Central Research and Extension Center near North Platte for discussion of new cropping and irrigation technology research, a stop at a Platte River Recovery Implementation Program site; the Nebraska Public Power District’s Gerald Gentleman Station near Sutherland, and more. Planning is underway to end the tour with a kayak trip on a stretch of Central’s Supply Canal.

“Anyone who is interested in water resources, be they producers, researchers, or work in the water resources field, is welcome to attend,” said Central’s Public Relations Coordinator Jeff Buettner. “Our agenda will be packed with interesting topics and our goal is to present a broad overview of why this stretch of the Platte River is so important to Nebraska for many different reasons.”

Registration information for the tour will be announced soon. The latest tour information will be online at watercenter.unl.edu. Participation will be limited to the first 55 registrations.

Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture Students Visit Lake McConaughy

Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture Students Visit Lake McConaughy

Students from the Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture in Curtis visited Kingsley Dam and Lake McConaughy on Nov. 15 for what is becoming something of a tradition.

The tour was facilitated by Dayna Wasserburger, Southwest Regional membership director for the Nebraska Farm Bureau. Brad Ramsdale, PhD, professor of agronomy at NCTA, accompanied the students as he has several times in the past.

The group first listened to a presentation by Nate Nielsen, Central’s Kingsley Dam foreman, about Central’s hydro-irrigation project before the group visited the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission’s Water Interpretive Center. In the center, the students participated in a number of interactive activities that demonstrated the various uses and importance of water.

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Students from the Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture (NCTA) in Curtis wave to the camera during a tour of the Kingsley Hydroplant.

nateandcurtistechkids

Kingsley Dam Foreman Nate Nielsen explains the operation and function of the Outlet Tower at Kingsley Dam to NCTA students.

After a five-minute audio presentation about water resources in the Platte River Basin, the group headed out to get a first-hand look at the “Morning Glory” spillway and the Control Tower, the outlet structures for Kingsley Dam. The tour concluded with a visit inside the Kingsley Hydroplant where Nielsen described in detail the operation of the state’s largest hydroelectric plant.

Earlier in the day, Ramsdale had taken the students to Central’s diversion dam near North Platte and driven past NPPD’s Lake Maloney and the North Platte Hydroplant.

For several of the students, it was their first visit to Lake McConaughy, and despite the calendar, the weather for a mid-November day couldn’t have been more pleasant.  Temperatures climbed into the 70s and only a gentle breeze barely causing ripples on the surface of the reservoir.

Central thanks the group for visiting and looks forward to future visits by Dr. Ramsdale’s students.

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NSIA/NWRA 2016 Annual Convention Summary; Sen. Carlson Named Recipient of Kremer Award

NSIA/NWRA 2016 Annual Convention Summary; Sen. Carlson Named Recipient of Kremer Award

“Forward … Building on the Past,” was the theme of the Nebraska State Irrigation Association and the Nebraska Water Resources Association annual joint convention held Nov. 21-22 in Kearney, Neb. The convention featured two days of presentations and discussions based on that theme.

The event’s first presentation covered the historic 1935 flood along the Republican River that caused untold damage and claimed more than 100 lives. The catastrophe led to the construction of a series of dams and reservoirs in the Republican River Basin to control the river flow to prevent future floods, for agriculture irrigation, and recreational uses.

Also on the agenda was a panel discussion with several recently retired individuals who shared their perspectives on long careers in the water resources field, experience gained, lessons learned, and advice for the future. On the panel were Glenn Johnson, former Lower Platte South NRD manager; John Turnbull, retired manager of the Upper Big Blue NRD; Gary Westphal, former manager of the Butler Public Power District; and Jim Goeke, formerly with the UNL Conservation and Survey Division.

Looking to the present and future, several presentations covered topics related to water management, integrated management planning, managing drought risk, the Platte River Cooperative Agreement, and expanded efforts by the Nebraska Water Balance Alliance.

CNPPID General Manager Don Kraus gave a presentation entitled, “Celebrating the 75th Anniversary of Nebraska’s Largest Water Management Project.” Kraus’ presentation covered the events leading up to the formation of The Central Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation District, the construction of Kingsley Dam and the rest of Central’s hydro-irrigation project, and Central’s efforts to modernize its facilities, improve operational efficiency and conserve water resources over the decades.

After dinner on the evening of Nov. 21, Kraus presented the Groundwater Foundation’s Maurice Kremer Groundwater Achievement Award to former State Senator Tom Carlson.

Former State Senator Tom Carlson (second from right) received the Kremer Award at the NSIA/NWRA Annual Convention.  Shown with Sen. Carlson (left to right) are Jim Goeke, selection committee member; Groundwater Foundation Executive Director Jane Griffin; and Don Kraus, selection committee member.

Former State Senator Tom Carlson (second from right) received the Kremer Award at the NSIA/NWRA Annual Convention. Shown with Sen. Carlson (left to right) are Jim Goeke, selection committee member; Groundwater Foundation Executive Director Jane Griffin; and Don Kraus, selection committee member.

The Kremer Award is presented annually by Foundation to an outstanding Nebraskan who has made a substantive contribution to the conservation and protection of Nebraska’s groundwater. The Groundwater Foundation is a nonprofit organization based in Lincoln with a mission to educate people and inspire action to ensure sustainable, clean groundwater for future generations.

“Senator Carlson’s work ethic and deep passion for our state’s most important natural resource, groundwater, is reflected in his accomplishments during his tenure as a State Senator,” said Groundwater Foundation President Jane Griffin. “Our state has benefited from Senator Carlson’s deep passion for our natural resources. On behalf of all of us at the Groundwater Foundation, I am honored to recognize him with the Kremer Award.”

Kraus, a member of the selection committee for the award, commented, “During his two terms in the Unicameral, Senator Carlson was a leading proponent and tireless advocate for legislation to improve the sustainability of Nebraska’s water resources.”

Senator Carlson actively sponsored and championed LB 1098, which established the Water Sustainability Fund in 2014 to guarantee a future for Nebraska’s stressed water resources. Through his efforts, almost $30 million dollars were accumulated to finance water sustainability research in Nebraska in 2015/2016 and will finance water sustainability research into the future. He also worked on legislation related to the Republican River Sustainability Task Force and the extension of funding for the Riparian Vegetation Management Task Force.

Carlson was elected to the Nebraska Legislature in 2006 from District 38. As a State Senator, he chaired the Agriculture Committee from 2009 through 2012 and the Natural Resources Committee in 2013 and 2014, and worked extensively on agriculture and water issues.

The award is named for State Senator Maurice Kremer, who spent 20 years in the Nebraska Legislature where he was best known for his contributions toward protecting the state’s water resources, earning him the nickname “Mr. Water.”

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Kingsley Hydro Inspection: Images from the Inside

Kingsley Hydro Inspection: Images from the Inside

The accompanying images reveal parts of the Kingsley Hydroplant that are seldom seen by anyone other than Central employees who perform regular inspections, maintenance and repairs at Nebraska’s largest hydropower plant.

Central’s engineers and maintenance crews take the plant off-line annually for regular inspection and maintenance of the facility’s mechanical and electrical components, but every five years the 19-feet-diameter penstock leading from the Control Tower in Lake McConaughy and the scroll case which routes the water through the turbine are de-watered for complete inspections.

Once the gates on the Outlet Tower and the huge guard valve within the hydroplant are closed, preventing water from Lake McConaughy from entering the plant, pumps removed water from the penstock so a two-man crew can paddle a small rubber boat up the penstock to the base of the Outlet Tower to perform the inspection. (In addition, Central personnel take a larger aluminum boat – with a motor — up the 28-feet-diameter penstock from the “Morning Glory” spillway to inspect the inside of that pipe.)

Being inside the huge scroll case, which is a spiral-shaped intake tube that routes water entering from the penstock through the wicket gates just above the turbine blades, is not a place for someone with claustrophobia. First, it’s pitch dark until portable lights are turned on to enable the inspection process. Second, one arrives (either immediately or eventually) at the realization that you are well below the bottom of Lake McConaughy and only several inches of steel separate you from almost 2 million acre-feet of water on the other side.

But for the men doing the inspections, it’s all in a day’s work.

 

The wicket gates that control the flow of water falling over the turbine blades. The gates move along a vertical axis.

The wicket gates that control the flow of water falling over the turbine blades. The gates move along a vertical axis.

View from below the turbine hub, with blades and closed wicket gates visible.

View from below the turbine hub, with blades and closed wicket gates visible.

Close-up view of one of the stainless steel turbine blades.

Close-up view of one of the stainless steel turbine blades.

The turbine hub with scaffolding erected to facilitate inspection and maintenance work.

The turbine hub with scaffolding erected to facilitate inspection and maintenance work.

The guard valve between the penstock and scroll case.  The valve is 19 feet in diameter.

The guard valve between the penstock and scroll case. Although it doesn’t appear very large in the photo, the valve is 19 feet in diameter.

 

 

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.

E67 Telemetry Project Begins Second Year

E67 Telemetry Project Begins Second Year

Centralized Water Use Database for Irrigation Water Management in CNPPID
by Marcia Trompke, CNPPID Conservation Director


Site 4

     Producers taking water from Central’s E67 Pipeline Canal are involved in our newest precision management pilot project; funded in part by Nebraska lottery dollars through the Nebraska Environmental Trust, McCrometer Inc., Central and Nebraska Extension.  McCrometer’s Steve Grove (Hemet, CA) and Paul Tipling (Salina, KS), came to NE last week to help Central staff install equipment at 25 new field sites.  These sites, added to the 2015 installations, bring total sites in the project to 51.  In addition, a third McCrometer weather station was set up next to an existing UNL station to compare measured weather data and the results of the evapotranspiration calculations from each unit.

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Each project site using water from E67 has been fitted with a UHF radio/solar panel set and a digitizer added to the existing flowmeter.  Most sites have a digital rain gauge unless pivot water will hit it.  A gateway unit at the powerhouse near Johnson Lake calls each field station every hour and each weather station every 15 minutes to gather data and transmit it to a host computer at McCrometer.  Producers have access to this information from each of their fields and the weather stations immediately from a home computer, tablet or smartphone.  Data is graphed, tabled and archived for producers and all data is exportable to an Excel spreadsheet.

flow meter 6  The outcome of precision management is expected to be high yields with minimum use of irrigation water.  It is possible that an irrigation event can be saved at the beginning or end of the season or both once the producer has reliable information on hand to make those decisions.

 

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Other info:

  • The E67 Canal headgate is on the outlet side of Johnson Lake and the canal provides irrigation water to 5,767 acres to the south.
  • In 2001 and 2002, the E67 earthen canals were upgraded to 18.2 miles of pipeline, 2.9 miles of membrane lined canal (bank to bank) and a 0.4 mile lateral was left open. The project saved 5,000 AF of seepage and evaporation losses annually; storable water that can enhance aquatic and shoreline habitat at Lake McConaughy.
  • The E67 Telemetry Project is an upgrade on the customer side of the meter; an effort to help customers raise the efficiency of crop water use.
  • By having reliable information on the soil water balance in every field, producers are able to determine daily which field(s) need an irrigation.
  • The ability to see the amount of rainfall measured at the weather stations in 15 minute intervals, allows producers to determine if they need to irrigate through a light rain or shut a pivot down.
  • Data is available 24/7 from anywhere in the world
  • Central will allow producer purchased add-ons to be integrated into this system. Pressure sensors, soil moisture sensors and pivot locators are some of the possibilities.
  • Central will be able to see individual and aggregated deliveries throughout the season and by 2017, should be able to integrate the meter data directly into the accounting software for billing.
  • 2017 will be Year 3 of this project when all remaining turnouts will be included in the Telemetry system.
  • NET is providing 3 years of funding, $194,100 total as a cost share grant
    • 1 (2015), $61,380
    • 2 (2016), $65,460
    • 3 (2017), $67,260
    • McCrometer, Inc., Central, NE Extension share of the total project is $ 226,540
  • NET grants are funded from the NE Lottery; that return dollars to local communities to help fund improvement projects from these categories;
    • Habitat
    • Surface and Ground Water
    • Waste Management
    • Air Quality
    • Soil Management

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