Swimmer conquered Lake McConaughy in 1968. Why?

Swimmer conquered Lake McConaughy in 1968.  Why?

I came across an article in a recent issue of the Keith County News about a young man who swam the length of Lake McConaughy in 1968.

I’d never heard of such an accomplishment, but the article (by KCN staff writer Kenneth Lipp) indicated that it was the first time anyone had ever accomplished such a feat.  No wonder.  The swimmer, Scott Skultety of Omaha, had to travel 21 miles from the west end of the reservoir to Kingsley Dam.  It took the 17-year-old 11-½ hours to cover that distance.

Now, for someone who admittedly swims like a rock, I was duly impressed by such an accomplishment.  My first musings were:  1) Has anyone completed such a swim since 1968?  And, 2) Why would someone attempt such a challenge?

As to the first question, an internet search of long-distance swims at Lake McConaughy turned up nothing other than a reference to a planned swim by a marathon swimmer in 2017, but I could find nothing to confirm that such a swim ever took place.

The answer to the second question involves some speculation on my part, but I think it probably comes down to the reason for many other such feats.  “Because it’s there.”

In March 1923, a British mountain climber by the name of George Mallory was trying to raise money for an expedition to climb to the summit of Mount Everest.  At the time, no one had ever conquered the highest mountain on earth.  Mallory had failed on to previous attempts to reach the summit twice, but was undeterred.

When asked by a New York Times reporter why he wanted to climb Everest, his response was simply, “Because it’s there.”

From that seemingly frivolous remark, Mallory expanded in a manner that perhaps best explains the reasons for “why?”  And perhaps it explains why a lot of other such attempts are made to reach seemingly impossible goals.

“Everest is the highest mountain in the world and no man has reached its summit,” he said.  “Its existence is a challenge.  The answer is instinctive, a part, I suppose, of man’s desire to conquer the universe.”

Mallory and his climbing partner sought to quench that desire in 1924, but it cost the pair their lives.  Witnesses saw them make it to within a thousand feet of the summit, but then lost sight of them.  They were never seen again.

Successfully reaching the summit of Mount Everest had to wait until 1953 when Edmund Hillary and his Sherpa companion Tenzing Norgay reached the top.

I don’t know if young Mr. Skultety was inspired by such notions; the article didn’t address the “why” question.  But again, it was quite a feat.  Lake McConaughy is known for becoming suddenly unfriendly to boaters and swimmers alike if a sudden storm should blow up.  When the wind blows, the waves can become an issue.  Perhaps the weather forecast and the water conditions were perfect for such an adventure and he certainly didn’t have to contend with sharks, jellyfish or other such dangers (other than perhaps a careless boater running over him in mid-swim).

None of that diminishes his accomplishment.  Come on, it was more than 21 MILES!  Now, I’m aware that lots of other people compete in events that require long-distance swimming (as well as running and biking), but like I said, I’m not aware of anyone else swimming the length of the lake.  (If someone sees this post, and knows of such an accomplishment, I’d love to hear the details.)

Skultety went on to swim competitively for Kansas University and, in fact, was the 1971 Big Eight Conference swimmer of the year, but he noted in the KCN article that none of his other accomplishments has been so enduring.

Even if someone else has swam the length of Lake McConaughy since that August day in 1968, he’ll always be the first to accomplish such an exploit.

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Tours and Interesting People

Tours and Interesting People

I just completed a series of tours of facilities that are part of The Central Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation District’s hydropower-irrigation project.  In fact, I was leading tours on seven of ten work days over a recent two-week period.

That in itself is not news.  Organizing and leading tours of the project is part of my job, a part that I greatly enjoy, and it was just happenstance that the tours were all scheduled so closely together.  Such tours are a valuable part of our public relations tool box.  You can look at maps, diagrams and videos, but nothing beats “boots on the ground.”

As an aside, I’ve often wished that I had kept track of how many project tours I’ve personally been part of over the last 28 years, but sadly, neglected to do so.  I’m guessing that it’s around 200.

Groups that have toured Central’s project are incredibly diverse.  Space does not permit a listing of the many different kinds of groups and organizations who made the trip to Lake McConaughy and back, but they range from irrigation customers and cabin owners to representatives of governmental agencies and local service clubs.

Participants have come from across the state and from all over the world.  We’ve had visitors from Africa, Asia, South America and Europe.  There’ve been politicians, political candidates and professors; senior citizens in life-long learning programs and students in law school, graduate school and high school.  We’ve hosted groups from environmental organizations, members of the media, and Extension educators from across the state.  And on and on.

But it’s not the number of groups that have toured the project over the years that sticks out, it’s the hundreds of interesting people who make up those groups.

One such person was Harold Stevens, the late Dawson County Extension agent, who was far more than just a tour participant.  Working with Central personnel, he organized what he called “5-O-5 tours.”  The name came from the plan for the tour to depart from Lexington at 5 a.m., and return the same day at 5 p.m.

His tours began in the 1950s when Harold would string together a caravan of vehicles and visit facilities operated by Central, the Platte Valley Public Power and Irrigation District (which merged with two other public power entities to become the Nebraska Public Power District) and other area irrigation companies.

At the time, Kingsley Dam, Lake McConaughy, the hydroelectric plants, and the canal systems and reservoirs were still relatively new on the scene, wonders of modern engineering that attracted visitors from across the region.

A few decades later, the caravans – which were assembled once or twice a year – were replaced by Central’s passenger van and traversed the route two or three times each summer.  At some point in the 1990s, Harold was reminded that, given the dwindling rural population of the state and changing habits, fewer and fewer people were around who knew what it meant to get out of bed before 5 a.m.

It took some convincing, but we were eventually able to persuade him to re-name the tour, calling it the “7-O-7 tour.”  The change in timing helped continue to populate the tour and Harold kept at it until he had organized and participated in 104 “5-O-5 / 7-O-7” tours.  His last tour took place in 2003, only months before he passed away at the age of 85.

At one time, it was common for Central to conduct two-day tours simply because there are a lot of miles to travel and many interesting sights to see.  The end of the first day found the groups at Jeffrey Lodge, where a boat cruise on Jeffrey Lake, a steak dinner and continued discussion of any number of current topics awaited.

In today’s busy world, it seems that potential tour participants are reluctant – or unable – to escape their day jobs for two whole days.  One-day tours – kind of like Stevens’ “7-O-7 tours” – are now the most common.  And that’s a shame because we’re unable to really take in the whole project in a single day, simply because of the time constraints and distances involved.

But that leads to my point.  We still offer tours of the project.  Put together a group of nine or 10 folks who might be interested, arrange a date or dates that work and we’ll take care of the rest.  It won’t cost you a dime, other than the cost of traveling to our front door.

There’s much to see and experience.  And then you can become part of another group full of interesting people who have toured the Central District’s hydro-irrigation project.

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2017 Water & Natural Resources Tour: Education and Fun

2017 Water & Natural Resources Tour:  Education and Fun

The focus of the recent Water & Natural Resources Tour was on educating and informing participants about the many uses and benefits of water within the Platte River Basin between Ogallala and Holdrege, but there was plenty of fun, food and, yes, even exercise during the three-day tour.

What follows is a short(?) recap of the tour, along with some observations from the tour.

The tour participants – numbering more than 50 – assembled at Central’s administrative headquarters on the morning of June 27 and headed out via motor coach for the first stop at a site just south of the Platte River near between Elm Creek and Overton.  The site is part of what is called the Cottonwood Ranch complex, which is owned by the Nebraska Public Power District and managed for wildlife habitat purposes by the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program (Program).

Jerry Kenny (with microphone) of the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program describes plans for a groundwater recharge/river flow enhancement project during the 2017 tour.

Part of the 3,000-acre ranch is comprised of grasslands and wet meadows and it is here that the Program is investigating prospects for a groundwater recharge project that will benefit base flows in the Platte River.  The idea is to construct earthen berms around about 300 acres in the area, fill them with anywhere from six to 14 inches of water and allow the water to seep into the ground, which will eventually return to the river.  The shallow water would also presumably attract migrating whooping cranes as a place to forage and roost.

From there the tour headed to the Tom Schwarz farm to check out one of the few organic farming operations in the area.  It is here that Tom, his family and a few hired hands raise organic crops and vegetables in adjacent fields and small greenhouses.  The greenhouses recently sustained heavy damage from a spring storm, but inside one of the relatively undamaged structures, Tom showed off rows of peppers, tomatoes and other vegetables that are being raised without pesticides, herbicides or non-organic fertilizer.  Tom also has plans to begin a small organically raised cattle herd.

On the bus on the way to the next stop, John Thorburn, manager of the Tri-Basin Natural Resources District, explained the proposed Platte to Republican Diversion Project.  The PRD Project, as it has become known, would deliver water from the E-65 Canal to the mouth of Turkey Creek through a pipeline bored beneath Highway 23 and the railroad tracks during times when there are excess flows in the Platte River.  Any water appropriations granted by the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources would be junior to all current or future appropriations in the Platte River watershed.  The project is intended to help reach objectives related to the NRDs’ Integrated Water Resources Management Plans and to assist in compliance with the Republican River Compact between Nebraska and Kansas.

After about 45 minutes at the Schwarz farm, the tour headed for Elwood Reservoir and the Carl T. Curtis Pump Station, which were added to Central’s system in 1977 to improve delivery surface throughout the E-65 Canal’s service area.  The reservoir is also used for groundwater recharge purposes during the non-irrigation season and has become known as an excellent walleye fishery.  Water is pumped into the reservoir at the pump station and then allowed to run back out by gravity when needed for irrigation deliveries.

The bus then traveled across the Johnson Lake dam; on the way the riders observed the synthetic membrane lining (a water conservation/canal efficiency measure) in the upper end of the E-65 Canal, the headgate of the canal and the inlet structure on the lake’s west side.

After a busy morning, lunch was served at the Monsanto Water Utilization Center near Gothenburg while Duane Woodward from the Central Platte Natural Resources District talked to the group about groundwater recharge efforts within the district.

After lunch the group headed out to the fields on pickup truck-pulled trolleys to examine studies of yields, insect and weed control, plant health and fertility, microbials, canopy height, drought stress and other topics.  The tour participants also observed how the center’s “rain-out shelter” is used to ensure precipitation doesn’t interfere with studies involving drought resistance of crops.

(Author’s note:  Keep in mind, all of these tour visits occurred on the same day, and we’re not finished yet!)

After a quick pause for refreshments, the group headed into Gothenburg for a tour of the Frito Lay Corn Handling Facility, where they learned that any of the snack chips consumed west of the Mississippi River originated as corn passing through this facility.  Plant managers showed and explained to the group the control room, the load-out bays and the storage facilities at the plant.

The bus then headed down the street to Central’s Gothenburg Control Center from which operational monitoring and control of most of the District’s canal structures, pump stations and hydroplants is performed.  Gothenburg Division Manager Devin Brundage also explained how the water passing through Central’s system originates as snow and rain in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado and Wyoming before passing through a series of U.S. Bureau of Reclamation reservoirs and several upstream irrigation projects before entering Lake McConaughy.

Central’s Gothenburg Division Manager Devin Brundage explains how the District’s control center operates the hydroelectric/irrigation project.

After checking into their North Platte motel, the group was treated to dinner and wine at the Feather River Winery and Vineyard, after which the vineyard’s owner explained how the facility came to be and the process of growing hybrid grapes for wine production in Nebraska’s often harsh climate extremes.

Day 2

After a good night’s rest (well-deserved given the pace of the first day!), the tour participants boarded the bus for a stop along NPPD’s Sutherland Canal at which a still-under-construction pipeline will eventually deliver water from the Nebraska Cooperative Republican Platte Enhancement Project (NCORPE) well field.  A 19,500-acre farm was purchased in 2012 by a consortium of four NRDs (Upper Republican, Middle Republican, Lower Republican and Twin Platte), the cropland was converted to grassland and the irrigation wells – instead of feeding pivots – were hooked to a pipeline to deliver water to the Republican River Basin to help Nebraska’s compliance with the Kansas-Nebraska Republican River Compact.  The pipeline currently under construction will move water north to the canal and then back to the South Platte River as part of the Twin Platte NRD’s efforts to offset depletions to the Platte River caused by groundwater pumping.  TPNRD Manager Kent Miller and NCORPE manager Kyle Shepherd (who also participated in the entire tour) were on hand to explain the project’s details.

The next stop was nearby:  the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission’s North Platte Fish Hatchery.  Hatchery personnel, including manager Dirk Higgins, showed everyone around, including how the facility produces a variety of cool-water and warm-water fish species including walleye, white bass, blue catfish and channel catfish.  When needed, the hatchery also produces yellow perch, black and white crappie, blue catfish, wiper, striped bass, bluegill, muskellunge, tiger muskie, smallmouth bass, grass carp, northern pike and largemouth bass.  North Platte hatchery staff also makes annual collections of walleye and white bass eggs and milt from regional water bodies.  A relatively new activity at the hatchery is an effort to raise freshwater mussels, which are becoming less abundant in Nebraska’s lakes, rivers and streams.

The manager of the NGPC fish hatchery at North Platte describes the process of stocking many species of fish into Nebraska’s lakes and streams.

The bus didn’t have to travel far to reach the next stop, the UNL West Central Research and Extension Center, just a mile down the road from the hatchery.  At the center also known as the “State Farm,” Doug Hallum, Chuck Burr and Daran Rudnick explained current research activities on best management practices and measures to help producers get the most benefit from their water supplies.  Entomologist Julie Peterson also explained how the center is investigating the use of biological controls (read: bugs and/or viruses that target insect pests on the farm) as possible tools to supplement or replace chemical pesticides.

Lunch was served at the “Farm” and the group departed for its next stop at NPPD’s Gerald Gentleman Station (GGS) near Sutherland.  GGS is Nebraska’s largest power plant in terms of generating capacity.  Station Manager Gerry Phelps and a team of tour guides from the station explained the plant’s operation from top to bottom and how water from Lake McConaughy is used to cool the condensers (returning the steam that passes through the turbines to a liquid state).

The tour also included a trip to the plant’s roof, where participants could see the coal yard and immense coal-handling equipment, the water works (including Sutherland Reservoir) and enjoy the view up and down the Platte River Valley.

After the 2-1/2 hour tour concluded, the bus headed for its Ogallala motel to prepare for dinner at the Haythorn Ranch north of Kingsley Dam.  The participants were treated to a wonderful meal by Jody Haythorn and her staff at the Figure 4 Traditions banquet facility and also witnessed a spectacular sunset over the Sandhills.  As the group lingered on the veranda in the fading light, turkeys strutted across a nearby pasture where a few horses seemed to completely ignore them.  Begrudgingly, the group had to be prodded to board the bus and leave the idyllic setting as storm clouds – which would later bring torrential rain – began to roll in.

A gorgeous sunset — and an approaching thunderstorm — at the Haythorn Ranch north of Lake McConaughy where the tour group enjoyed a terrific meal and a wonderful atmosphere.

Day 3

The final day of the tour dawned clear and warm, with little evidence left from the previous night’s storm.  The tour participants headed for the NGPC’s Lake McConaughy Visitors Center to browse through the facility’s Water Interpretive Center and listen to NGPC’s Regional Supervisor Colby Johnson explain the agency’s long-term Master Plan for recreational improvements at Lake McConaughy and Lake Ogallala.  After a little more than an hour, the group boarded the bus for a tour of “Big Mac’s” outlet structures (the Outlet Tower and the “Morning Glory” spillway) and the Kingsley Hydroplant below the dam.

Devin Brundage appears for the second time on the tour, this time as tour guide for the Kingsley Hydro. Here he explains the operation of the hydroplant’s bypass valve.

Most of the tourists had never had the opportunity to peer down into the great bowl of the spillway and a few backed away from the railing at the sight of the gaping hole through which huge volumes of water could be released if necessary to control the lake’s elevation during high-water events.  At the outlet tower, where the gates for normal releases of water lie at the bottom of the lake, no hands were raised when Central’s electro-mechanical technician Jason Meints explained the routine inspection process for the inside of the tower and asked for volunteers.  All it involves is a slow ride down the 160-feet-deep shaft on a flimsy platform attached to a steel cable in pitch darkness.  (To my surprise, I’ve never had anyone indicate an interest in going down the tower during similar tours, save for a few 15-year-olds who haven’t yet developed an aversion to dark and tight spaces.)

The group also enjoyed running … well, walking … several flights of stairs necessary to reach the generator floor and turbine-pit floor deep within the Kingsley Hydroplant.  Gothenburg Division Manager Devin Brundage, pulling double duty as a tour guide, explained the workings of the largest hydroplant in Nebraska and answered questions from tourists experiencing their first visit inside such a facility.

When the group members had regained their breath after climbing the stairs back into the sunlight, the tour continued down the road to Ole’s Big Game Bar & Steakhouse for a steak lunch, one more opportunity to fuel up for the final event of the tour:  a kayak trip down Central’s Supply Canal from just below Midway Lake near Cozad to the Gallagher Canyon Lake boat ramp, a stretch of 5.5 miles.

For most tour participants, it was their first opportunity to paddle a kayak, but everyone seemed to get the hang of the easily maneuverable crafts quite quickly.  Those who chose not to paddle boarded a john boat and a pontoon provided to follow along.  Since safety was a primary consideration, Jarrid Rickertsen – a Central employee at the Gothenburg office and a licensed emergency medical technician – piloted one of the boats and was prepared to use his EMT skills if necessary.  Thankfully, there were no emergencies and the kayakers arrived at their destination in about two hours.

Along the way, the group enjoyed the scenery along the canal.  High banks, plenty of birds, the occasional fish jumping out of the water or swimming just beneath, and a group of teenagers using one of the high banks as a platform from which they could jump/dive/flip into the canal 20 feet below.

A tired, but triumphant group of kayakers climb the boat ramp at Gallagher Canyon Lake upon reaching the end of the 5.5-mile trip down Central’s Supply Canal.

Upon ending the kayak trip and re-boarding the bus, the tour concluded back in Holdrege with an impromptu pizza party in Central’s parking lot.  Three or four dozen pizzas disappeared in short order as the participants gradually departed for home, many of whom expressed their enjoyment of the tour and asked about the destination for next summer’s tour.

The organizing committee, composed of Steve Ress and Tricia Leidle from the Nebraska Water Center; Ben Beckman, research and extension communication specialist from UNL; and Public Relations Assistant Holly Rahmann and myself from Central, will convene soon for a debriefing session on this year’s tour and review comments and suggestions from surveys filled out by participants.  Then we’ll turn the page and begin planning for next year’s tour.  The destination is unknown at this time, but we’ll try to choose a tour that will be interesting and enlightening, and most importantly, fun for its participants, continuing a tradition 40 years in the making.

 

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.

Construction Underway on Pedestrian Bridge over Hike/Bike Trail

Construction Underway on Pedestrian Bridge over Hike/Bike Trail

A Central crew began construction of the pedestrian bridge over the Johnson Lake outlet canal in early October. The last pilings were driven on Oct. 12, setting the stage for construction of the supporting infrastructure and deck.

When completed, the bridge adjacent to the existing road bridge will afford safe crossing of the outlet by users of the lake’s hike/bike trail. The 10-feet-wide bridge will be constructed of wood and rest on steel pilings.

Central used a 30-ton crane equipped with a pile-driver that was positioned on the existing road bridge. Using the existing bridge as a “base” for construction will save on the cost of the bridge. The bridge is scheduled to be completed before Thanksgiving.

Central personnel finish driving the last steel piling for the pedestrian bridge.

Central personnel finish driving the last steel piling for the pedestrian bridge.

The Supply Canal: Scenic Canoe Trips Await

The Supply Canal: Scenic Canoe Trips Await

Can you identify the locations of these photos?

Supply_Canal_Photo_1(a)Supply_Canal_Photo_3a

SUPPLY_CANAL_PHOTO_5a

No, they weren’t taken along a wild and scenic river, or at some national park. These photos were taken along Central’s Supply Canal, which runs from just east of North Platte to east of Lexington. Many sections of the canal wind through high banks, and narrow canyons.

The public is permitted to use the entire length of the canal for recreational purposes, excluding areas around Central’s three hydroelectric plants and NPPD’s Canaday Steam Plant. Portages around check structures are relatively easy, but getting around the hydroplants requires a lengthier overland trek. Launching a canoe or kayak may be difficult in some spots because of the shoreline protection materials (in most cases, broken concrete riprap). Many sections of the canal are paralleled by maintenance roads or state and county roads. The flow in the canal is relatively constant year-round, the water is 15 to 20 feet deep in most places, and the current is not rapid (no whitewater stretches), although caution should be exercised when approaching check gates.

The 75-mile-long Supply Canal and its many canyon lakes are used for hunting, hiking, canoeing and kayaking, camping and fishing. Only wakeless boating is allowed on the canal to prevent bank erosion.

Also, when planning a canoe or kayak trip, it’s a good idea to remember these helpful hints from the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission:

  • Wear your life jacket.
  • Take a spare paddle.
  • Don’t canoe alone.
  • Have tether ropes on both ends of the canoe.
  • Take insect repellant.
  • Take ample water.
  • Take sunscreen, sunglasses, and wide-brim hat. The sun’s reflection off the water can be intense. If it is hot, start early or later in the day and make the trip shorter.
  • Put extra clothing, gear, and food in water-proof bags.
  • Take rain gear, but not ponchos.
  • Take first aid kit. Learn what poison ivy and poison oak look like, as well as black widow and brown recluse spiders.
  • Avoid contact with livestock and wild animals.
  • Protect your feet with tightfitting wading shoes.
  • Camp only in designated areas. Obtain permission prior to camping on, or entering the water from, private land.
  • Read maps and plan ahead. Be off the water before dark.
  • TRASH: If you create it, e.g., cans, bottles, food wrappers, etc., pack it out. Don’t discard it in the water.
  • Build fires only in fire rings; drown flames and coals after use. If no fire ring exists, use only camp stoves.
  • Use caution when loading and unloading near highway or county bridges.
  • And remember, Nebraska’s weather can be unpredictable and prone to extremes of temperature, humidity, wind and rate of change. Summer storms rapidly form, are fast-moving and can have rain, hail, high winds, lightning, and tornados combined.  Pay attention to signs of bad weather, get off the water and take cover as quickly as possible if a storm is approaching.

Help Prevent an Invasion: Clean, Drain and Dry to Keep Invasive Aquatic Species Out of Nebraska Waters

Help Prevent an Invasion:  Clean, Drain and Dry to Keep Invasive Aquatic Species Out of Nebraska Waters

A small aquatic species, not much bigger than your thumbnail, poses a threat to Nebraska’s lakes, reservoirs and associated power-generating facilities.  Once established, the critters are extremely difficult and expensive to remove.

The creature is the zebra mussels (and their relative, the quagga mussel).  But Nebraska is not without defenses.  As the Memorial Day weekend — and the summer recreation season — approaches, boaters and recreation-seekers can help by simply cleaning, draining and drying a boat, trailer and related equipment to help prevent the invasion.

The zebra mussel has caused enormous problems in other parts of the country and has been detected in Nebraska in a lake at Offutt Air Force Base and on a dock on the South Dakota side of Lewis & Clark Lake.  Evidence of zebra mussels was also discovered on a boat and trailer at Harlan County Lake, although the specimens had died before the boat entered the water.  Whether it spreads to other lakes and rivers depends to a large degree on the public’s vigilance.  The mussels are one of many invasive species found in various lakes and rivers that can cause damage to boat motors and clog cooling water intakes at power plants.

quagga_mussels_3

Pipes clogged by accumulation of quagga mussels.

The Central Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation District uses water to generate electricity at the Kingsley Hydroplant at Lake McConaughy and also at three hydroplants along the Supply Canal between North Platte and Lexington.  In addition, the Nebraska Public Power District uses water from Lake McConaughy to cool equipment at Gerald Gentleman Station near Sutherland, and to produce power at the North Platte Hydroelectric Plant.  Preventing aquatic invasive species from fouling intake pipes and other equipment is important to continuing Nebraska’s ability to provide low cost, reliable electricity.

“We’ve seen the devastation that zebra mussels have done to water bodies in other states,” said Central Senior Biologist Mark Peyton.  “They dramatically change the fishery and natural balance of the lake or river.  What’s more, when they are in a system like the Platte River, it would be next to impossible to prevent them from infesting all the other water bodies associated with that system.

“Once a body of water is contaminated, monetary resources that could be used to improve and enhance recreational opportunities and wildlife value at the lakes are used instead to clean up and contain the mussels.  All in all, the mussels simply are not good for the system or for the people using the system.  We hope that people who use the lakes in Nebraska don’t become complacent about the threat because it’s out there, it’s real.”

A freshwater mollusk native to eastern Europe and western Asia, the zebra mussel — so named for its striped shell — was first detected in North America in 1988 in Lake St. Clair, a small lake between Lake Huron and Lake Erie.  The first specimens probably arrived in the ballast water of ships that sailed from a freshwater port in Europe.  It has since spread throughout the Great lakes region and to river systems in the Midwest, including the Ohio, Illinois, Arkansas, and Mississippi rivers.

How can such a small mollusk create such problems?  First, they reproduce prolifically.  A single female, which has a life span of up to five years, can lay more than a million eggs during a single spawning season.  Second, the mussels anchor themselves to hard surfaces in huge numbers.

Water intake pipes at factories, water treatment plants, and power plants have been clogged by the buildup of mussels, requiring difficult and expensive removal.  Beyond industry, zebra mussels can infest boat hulls and motors, docks, lifts and any other structure in the water.  The shells of dead mussels can accumulate in great quantities on swimming beaches, the sharp edges posing a threat to swimmers’ feet.

In addition, because they feed by filtering algae and plankton from the water, they can disrupt the food chain at its base.

A relative of the zebra mussel, the quagga mussel, has been discovered at Julesburg Reservoir in the South Platte Basin, less than 50 miles from Lake McConaughy.  The quagga poses the same threat to industry and recreation as the zebra mussel and has been found in many western lakes.  Nationwide, the economic impact of the mussels comes to billions of dollars.

Karie Decker, formerly the coordinator for the Nebraska Invasive Species Project and now an assistant division administrator for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission’s Wildlife Division, said, “Everyone who uses our lakes for any reason, be it recreation, irrigation, or power production, has a stake in preventing the spread of these species.  Quite literally, they can ruin a lake.”

She said there would be no way to eradicate the mussels if they gained a foothold in Lake McConaughy.

“We could only hope to contain them and even that would be expensive for Nebraska,” she said.

At the root of the state’s effort to educate the public about the threat posed by the mussels is the slogan, “CLEAN. DRAIN. DRY.”  Lake visitors are urged to clean, drain and dry any watercraft and recreational equipment before putting them into the water.

“Inadvertent human transport is the main pathway for introducing the mussels to other lakes,” Decker said.  “We want to make sure people aren’t transporting water that may contain larvae from one lake to another in boats, live wells, bait buckets, waders, or even vegetation attached to boat trailers.”

Decker said it doesn’t take long to inspect boats.  The more difficult task, she said, is simply making people aware of the need to do so and getting them to follow through with regular inspections.

The public is the only line of defense and Nebraska needs help to repel the invader.  For more information about the invasive mussels, visit the Nebraska Invasive Species Project’s web site at http://snr.unl.edu/invasives.

Central Hosts Stakeholder Meetings

Central Hosts Stakeholder Meetings

By Jim Brown, CNPPID Land Administrator

NGPC's Colby Johnson addresses attendees at the Ogallala Stakeholder Meeting.

NGPC’s Colby Johnson addresses attendees at the Ogallala Stakeholder Meeting.

Stakeholder meetings were held recently to present modifications to permitting processes and regulations that are being contemplated by Central. This is the first year for these meetings, which were held at Gothenburg, Ogallala, and Lexington. The purpose is to allow stakeholders (cabin-owners and members of the public who use District lakes) the opportunity to provide feedback on current issues, to meet Central staff, and to be part of the process of improving the program.

Presentations about Central’s operations and permitting were made by Central staff members at all meetings and staff from the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission gave a presentation about park improvements at Lake McConaughy park improvements during the Ogallala meeting. Contact information for appropriate personnel was provided at all three meetings and attendees were invited to share constructive opinions and improvements to the program with an emphasis in areas of safety, environmental impacts, and neighbor relations as they relate to the permitting program. Central staff will consider all suggestions and weigh them against mandatory requirements of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission license, the Land and Shoreline Management Plan, and any other local, state, or federal regulations and potentially incorporate suggestion that meet the requirements.

Central will continue to accept comments and suggestions until early May, at which point the comments will be reviewed with the goal of submitting the update to the District’s permitting procedures as soon as possible. If you would like to provide a suggestion for improvement, send an email to jbrown@cnppid.com.

 

“Prehistoric Fish” Stocked in Two Central Supply Canal Lakes

“Prehistoric Fish” Stocked in Two Central Supply Canal Lakes
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American paddlefish

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Lake McConaughy Sign Gets Fresh Coat of Paint

Lake McConaughy Sign Gets Fresh Coat of Paint

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Central teamed up with the group Keep Keith County Beautiful to re-vamp the iconic “Leave only your footprints please!” sign located on the shore of Lake McConaughy.

Central funded the project, which included repairing and repainting the cement slab. The sign had not been touched-up since August 1989.

Originally, the cement slab served as an unloading dock for the railroad as supplies were brought in on rail cars during construction of the dam. Although at times of high tide it is covered by water, most days it welcomes guests to Lake McConaughy with a friendly reminder to keep the beaches free of trash and debris.

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