Big change in Lake McConaughy from last year's wet season

Big change in Lake McConaughy from last year's wet season

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

By Lori Potter, Hub Staff Writer

BERTRAND — What a difference a year has made at Nebraska’s largest lake.

Water levels at Central Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation District’s Lake McConaughy were nearly 15 feet lower Tuesday than on Aug. 11, 2019, CNPPID Irrigation Operations Manager Dave Ford said at the Tri-Basin Natural Resources District board meeting.

“It’s a completely different situation from last year,” Ford said, comparing wet, flood-prone 2019 in the Platte Basin to more typical 2020 conditions.

There is approximately one month left for CNPPID irrigation water deliveries to farm customers, mostly in Gosper, Phelps and Kearney counties.

Ford said recent water releases from Lake McConaughy for irrigation and from an environmental account of water managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for Platte flows benefiting wildlife have resulted in a daily lake level drop of 0.2-0.3 of a foot.

On Tuesday, Big Mac held 1.173 acre-feet of water, which is 67.3% percent of capacity. Inflows were at 573 cubic feet per second and releases were at 2,880 cfs.

Ford said the two largest federal Bureau of Reclamation reservoirs upstream on the North Platte River in Wyoming are “in pretty decent shape.” Seminoe is at 71% of capacity and Pathfinder is at 66%. Each holds approximately 1 million a-f of water when full.

The Tri-Basin board meeting at the Blue Moose restaurant in Bertrand started with a public hearing on the fiscal year 2020-21 budget. It was approved later in the meeting for a total of $3.41 million.

That compares to nearly $1.79 million and $1.57 million the past two fiscal years.

“It’s bigger total dollars, but 1% less property tax,” Tri-Basin General Manager John Thorburn said about the FY2021 property tax asking of $1,093,577.51.

He said higher expenditures primarily are due to anticipated construction of a streamflow augmentation project at Cottonwood Ranch, on the south side of the Platte River between Elm Creek and Overton.

The project overseen by Tri-Basin will involve installing wells to pump groundwater enhanced by river diversions onto the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program site made through CNPPID’s Phelps Canal at times of higher-than-target flows. The recharged groundwater slowly will seep back to the adjacent river on its own, but it can be pumped into the river faster when needed to meet target flows for wildlife.

Cottonwood Ranch was the first stop on Tuesday morning’s annual Tri-Basin projects tour.

Thorburn said construction and maintenance costs for the new wells will be reimbursed to the NRD by the Platte Program, which involves Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska and the U.S. Department of Interior.

An interlocal agreement for that project still must be ratified by the PRRIP Governance Committee. Its next virtual meeting, based at the program’s Kearney headquarters, will be Sept. 15-16.

Thorburn said the Cottonwood Ranch project has no effect on Tri-Basin’s property tax asking, which is why it declined for FY2021.

In other business Tuesday, the TBNRD board:

- Decided to advertise a planned Aug. 27 meeting of a joint TBNRD-CNPPID committee as a special board meeting so that more Tri-Basin directors may legally attend. Nebraska Department of Natural Resources Interim Director Jesse Bradley will attend and some directors said Tuesday they want to talk to him about the status of DNR approval for a proposed Platte-Republican Diversion Project.

- Named Directors David Raffety of Kearney and Larry Reynolds of Lexington as Tri-Basin’s delegate and alternate, respectively, for the annual Nebraska Association of Resources Districts convention planned Sept. 28-29 in Kearney.

- Was told by Cammie Kerner of Holdrege, district conservationist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, that NRCS office doors remain locked due to COVID-19 safety measures. However, ag producers can have in-office meetings with staff by appointment, even if that’s done with a phone call from the parking lot.