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.

curtistechfarmbureautour

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

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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.

 

 

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.

 

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.

 

***

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

University of Nebraska Kearney Students Visit J-2 Eagle-Viewing

University of Nebraska Kearney Students Visit J-2 Eagle-Viewing

Midway Point in the J2 Eagle Viewing Season

Post by Mark Peyton – CNPPID Senior Biologist

February 1st marks the mid-point in the eagle viewing season at Central’s J2 Power plant located south-east of Lexington.   So far this has been an excellent season with both consistent numbers of eagles and quite a few visitors.

To date over 1,000 people have signed the registration book averaging over 45/day.   They have been treated to about 25 eagles that are actively fishing, flying, and interacting with each other.   The viewing center is open through February on Saturdays and Sundays from 8:00 AM – 2:00 PM.

Shown here is Dr. Letitia Reichart’s Ornithology Class from the University of Nebraska-Kearney.

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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.


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