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.

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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!”

 

International Students Tour Central’s Hydro-Irrigation Project

International Students Tour Central’s Hydro-Irrigation Project

Central hosted 20 international students and four instructors for a recent tour of the hydro-irrigation project.
The tour group was part of a field course coordinated by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s Institute for Water Education (UNESCO-IHE) which is based in The Netherlands. UNESCO-IHE partners with the Daugherty Water for Food Institute at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (DWFI/UNL), which in turn, partnered with Central to bring the students to Nebraska and to Central’s project area.

UNESCO tour Nate 2014-05-23_11-35-53_99

(Above: Kingsley Dam Foreman Nate Nielsen (top center) explains hydroelectric operations near a spare wicket gate.)

The 14-day field course, coordinated by the DWFI/UNL faculty, is composed of two elements, field measurements and a field trip. The field trip gives the students the opportunity to observe hydraulic engineering structures, irrigation schemes and structures, the manufacturing of water management equipment, including center pivots, PVC pipe, water meters, and vertical turbine pumps, and the installation of subsurface drip irrigation (SDI).

Part of the tour group’s two days with Central included a stop at the Monsanto Water Utilization Learning Center near Gothenburg. The students also visited Central’s administrative headquarters in Holdrege; learned about Central’s Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) operations during a “virtual tour” of the control room; stopped at several sites within the irrigated area to see SDI and pivot sites and canal control structures; toured the Lake McConaughy Water Interpretive Center as well as the reservoir’s outlet structures and the Kingsley Hydroplant. The group stayed overnight at Jeffrey Lodge at Jeffrey Reservoir.

Students are required to develop a report that accounts for the site visits. In the field measurements portion of the course, students collect and analyze data and write technical reports that include their synthesis and interpretation of the results and a summary of each project. Topics include efficiency and analysis of irrigation systems, groundwater and wells, discharge measurement in streams and pipelines, pumping systems for irrigation, pipeline hydraulics, soil water measurement, and soil hydraulic properties.

The students at UNESCO-IHE are pursuing M.S. degrees in water science and engineering, specializing in land and water development. The students are experienced professionals from developing countries. This year’s class included students from Ethiopia, Ghana, Guyana, Indonesia, Kenya, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, Swaziland, Tanzania and Zimbabwe.

Since 1957 the Institute has provided graduate education to more than 14,500 water professionals from over 160 countries, the vast majority from the developing world. Numerous research and capacity development projects are carried out throughout the world. The Institute offers a unique combination of applied, scientific and participatory research in water engineering combined with natural sciences and management sciences. Since its establishment the Institute has played an instrumental role in developing the capacities of water sector organizations, not least by strengthening the efforts of other universities and research centers to increase the knowledge and skills of professionals working in the water sector.

Laszlo Hayde and Sur Suryadi from IHE accompanied the tour group from the Netherlands. UNL faculty on the tour included Dean Eisenhauer and Derek Heeren. Central personnel who met with the students included Irrigation Division Manager Dave Ford, Kingsley Dam Foreman Nate Nielsen, and Gothenburg Division Manager Kevin Boyd. Public Relations Coordinator Jeff Buettner was the tour guide and host. Monte Vonasek of Central Valley Irrigation and John Ford, a producer and irrigation customer, also met with the group to share information about on-farm irrigation systems.


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