Archives June 2014

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.

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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.

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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.

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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!”

 

University of Nebraska Kearney Students Tour Central’s Project

University of Nebraska Kearney Students Tour Central’s Project

UNK tour group May 2014

Above: UNK Students and Professors pose for a group photo with Central’s Holly Rahmann on the shores of Jeffrey Lake.

 

Students from the University of Nebraska-Kearney recently participated in a tour of Central’s hydro-irrigation project, learning about irrigation, hydroelectric generation, wildlife habitat, recreation, groundwater recharge and – at the end of the tour – how to paddle a canoe.

Ten students and two professors spent two days with Public Relations Coordinator Jeff Buettner and Public Relations Assistant Holly Rahmann. They also heard on-site presentations from Senior Biologist Mark Peyton about wildlife habitat at Jeffrey Island, Gothenburg Division Manager Kevin Boyd at the Gothenburg Control Center, and Kingsley Dam Foreman Nate Nielsen at the Lake McConaughy Visitors Center and the Kingsley Hydroplant.

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Above: UNK students listen as Central’s Jeff Buettner explains the operations of the canal system shown.

UNK’s Summer Student Research Program, under Honors Program Director John Falconer, was established in 2002 to provide multi-disciplinary research opportunities to UNK undergraduates. Through this program, students work one-on-one with faculty experts to conduct original scholarly projects in their field of study. The experience increases knowledge in their discipline, improves critical thinking skills, and oral and written communication skills.

The summer program starts with a field trip to begin building a sense of community among the students, and to increase their understanding of south-central Nebraska. A “sense of place” is known to be an important factor in student development. The trip, hosted by Central each year, helps students learn how different audiences understand and use water resources that are vital to our regional economy. They also see how private and public organizations collaborate on important issues.

At the end of the tour, the students piled out of their vans and into canoes for an approximately 7-mile trip down the Supply Canal from just below Midway Lake to Gallagher Canyon Lake.

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Above: Students launch canoes and begin their trip down the stretch of canal.


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