UNK Research Students Complete 15th Annual Project Tour

UNK Research Students Complete 15th Annual Project Tour

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flow attenuation plan designed to protect nesting habitat

Flow attenuation plan designed to protect nesting habitat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

Summer Tech Will Treasure Experience for a Lifetime

Summer Tech Will Treasure Experience for a Lifetime

The experience of working at Lake McConaughy is something I’ll hold onto for the rest of my life.

I spent a second summer at Lake McConaughy working as a biological technician for The Central Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation District. The gorgeous landscape that surrounds the huge lake is remarkable and the white sandy beaches make the lake unlike any other I’ve seen. The sandy shorelines make an excellent destination for campers and outdoor enthusiasts from all over, but people are not the only ones utilizing the beaches.

Piping plovers and least terns are small shorebirds that also call Lake McConaughy home during the summer months. These magnificent birds are ground nesters and the fine sandy beaches of Lake Mac make the perfect habitat in which to hide their eggs. But because the birds share their nesting sites with people who are enjoying the lake, their nests are in danger of accidental destruction from getting run over, stepped on, or destroyed by unleashed pets. This is where my job becomes important.

Plover eggs in a nest, a small scrape in the sand, exhibit the camouflage that provides protection. Photo by Dillon Schroeder.

During the early months of the summer – late May and June — a typical day for me would be to survey the beach, searching for plover and tern nests and eggs, which is more difficult than one might imagine. The eggs are slightly smaller than a quarter and blend into the sand extremely well, which is the reason they nest in open, sandy places.

Once a nest is located, certain actions must take place to ensure that it has the greatest possible chance of producing eggs and chicks. In areas where human traffic is heavy, an enclosure is constructed around the nest, consisting of orange flagging and signs to make it as visible as possible to beach-goers. The enclosures are large enough that the bird will feel comfortable sitting on the nest as people drive or walk by. In certain areas around the lake where nests are more frequently established, a much larger enclosure is built. These enclosures could have more than ten nests inside them, and make it possible for the birds and chicks to go all summer without human interaction. As the summer progresses, the eggs begin to hatch and then comes the difficult task of keeping track of all the chicks on the beach until they are old enough to take flight. This can be difficult as the chicks can roam a great distance in either direction in a single day. However, this summer was much different than last.

Early in the summer, we had many much needed rain showers, causing flows in the North Platte River to rise dramatically. This meant a high volume of water flowing into the lake, which raised its elevation by more than a foot a week. The beaches rapidly disappeared as the birds were trying to find a suitable spot to make a nest. Just as the birds would find a site, the location would become inundated by the rising lake. As days passed, more and more birds left the lake in search of different locations to nest. By the end of the July, which is the natural deadline for these birds to make a new nest, we had no successful nests as the lake rose to 97 percent of its capacity. All suitable habitats were covered by water and the birds were forced to leave without having a successful nesting year at the lake. However, these birds tend to be resilient and will surely be back next year to give it another go!

This summer at the lake was one of the most interesting experiences I have had. Watching how the birds reacted to the water rising and seeing them battle each other for territory on what little beach remained was a sight unlike any other. This summer also showed me just how much natural changes can affect the entire ecosystem of the lake. Not only were the birds forced to leave without successfully nesting, but people had to find other areas to park their campers or pitch their tents , which was quite a sight to see. The fishing at Lake Mac quickly became more challenging as the summer went on. As the lake expanded, so did the areas in which fish could forage or take cover. Watching how fisherman reacted and tried new tactics was also interesting to me, as I am an avid fisherman.

All in all, one of the most important lessons I learned this summer is that things don’t always go as planned, but you have to be ready for whatever happens and learn to adapt to the situation that you encounter. I am thankful I am able to come away from this experience with such an important life lesson!

— Tony Jenniges is a senior at the University of Nebraska-Kearney, majoring in wildlife management with plans to enter a master’s program in the same field. He has worked two summers for Central, as well as a summer internship with the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. He also has worked for Headwaters, Inc., on tern and plover monitoring at sandpits in the central Platte River area as part of the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program monitoring efforts. In addition, he has participated in whooping crane monitoring by airplane, also a part of the PRRIP monitoring program.

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.

South Platte Flows on the Rise

South Platte Flows on the Rise

Precipitation in recent days in Colorado’s South Platte River watershed has raised flows in the South Platte River entering Nebraska.  The South Platte River is expected to experience increased flows in Nebraska through next week, and may cause some flooding problems in some areas.  (See charts below from the National Weather Service.)

Image3_Julesburg_gauge_5-11-15

Image2_Roscoe_gauge_5-11-15

In anticipation of flows in the Platte River being above target flows set by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Central’s board of directors met in a special board meeting on Fri., May 8 and approved (subject to legal review and approval by the other parties) agreements to divert excess river flows into the E65 Canal and Elwood Reservoir for groundwater recharge purposes and to augment instream flows.

The agreements are part of efforts by Central, Tri-Basin Natural Resources District, the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources, the Nebraska Community Foundation, and the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program to utilize excess flows for beneficial purposes.

Perch Pole Installed for Bald Eagles at J-2 Power Plant

Perch Pole Installed for Bald Eagles at J-2 Power Plant

Colder weather has Central’s staff working towards preparing for winter activities. One of the most popular winter activities at Central is the eagle-viewing season. Central opens two eagle-viewing centers – one at the J-2 Powerhouse near Lexington, Neb., and one on the shores of Lake Ogallala – where viewing is available in a heated setting, and open to the public each weekend from late December through early March.

eagle tree

For many years the J-2 Powerhouse has seen its share of eagles that enjoy the quiet atmosphere and open water for a supply of food. A favorite resting place for the eagles has been a dead tree on the west side of the canal not far from the powerhouse building. Over the summer, this “favorite” tree fell, and Central employees felt it needed a replacement.

20141023_102103 20141023_104943

The new perch pole seen above was constructed by Gothenburg employees and set up near where the old tree stood in hopes that the eagles may use it in a similar fashion.

For more information on eagle-viewing opportunities, visit our Eagle-Viewing web page.