Conservationists Prepare to Study Platte River Chokepoint

by Christina Stella, NET News

July 10, 2020, 4:41 p.m.

Conservationists near North Platte will soon study water patterns and samples from the Platte River by flooding one section with water from Lake McConaughy.

Jason Farnsworth at the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program says the program has worked hard alongside the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to reduce plant growth on the Platte River.

But excess vegetation in one section by North Platte is threatening some endangered species, including whooping cranes, piping plovers, interior least terns, and the pallid sturgeon.

“Whooping cranes migrate through the central plant in the spring and fall," Farnsworth said. "One of our priorities is to have enough water in the river when they want to stop, that they can roost in the channel and feel safe from predators.”

Officials need to be able to release more water into the system during migrations without harming nearby neighborhoods. According to Farnsworth, that means making sure the State Channel Berm diverts extra water away from homes and toward habitats that need it. The structure was upgraded in 2018.

"We've done a lot of work and spent a lot of money to [restore] the river ... and we need the capacity to use water, especially during the late spring to inundate the channel," he explained.

"We basically wet the entire channel up to prevent seedlings from getting established and vegetation from getting established."

Right now, the river by North Platte is at the flood stage of 6.0 feet. Officials plan to raise levels to 6.5 feet over the two weeks.

“We're actually looking at pushing stage a little bit past six and a half feet to 6.75, just to make sure that we have some freeboard, and the ability to even go up above that a little bit without causing any issues.”

The testing also helps officials decrease overall flood risk to surrounding communities.

But Farnsworth says residents won’t be impacted by increased river levels as they ramp up in the coming weeks. The study is expected to last through July 31.