Berm-focused Platte River Recovery Implementation Program water project to proceed

Berm-focused PRRIP water project to proceed

Lori Potter – Kearney Hub

ELM CREEK — A design and cost estimate might be ready in September for the first new Platte River Recovery Implementation Program water project to proceed since the large J-2 water-retiming reservoirs project proposed for southwest of Overton were determined to be too expensive.

The main feature of the new project will be about 6.5 miles of small berms spread over roughly 300 grassland acres in the southeast corner of the 3,000-acre Cottonwood Ranch. It is owned by Nebraska Public Power District and managed by the PRRIP on the south side of the river between Elm Creek and Overton.

Platte River Recovery Implementation Program

Platte River Recovery Implementation Program Director of Habitat Management and Rehabilitation Jason Farnsworth, left, and Executive Director Jerry Kenny describe for 2017 Nebraska Water and Natural Resources Tour participants a water project at a Cottonwood Ranch grassland southwest of Elm Creek. The plan is to build small berms to hold water on the 300-acre site at times when high flows allow diversions from the Platte River, at the tree line in the background. Lori Potter, Kearney Hub

PRRIP Director of Habitat Management and Rehabilitation Jason Farnsworth said the benefits will be better roosting and foraging habitat for migrating whooping cranes and the ability to retime water in the river.

The Platte Program is a combined effort of the U.S. Department of Interior, Nebraska, Wyoming and Colorado to protect critical habitat in and around the Central Platte River for threatened and endangered species: whooping cranes, interior least terns and piping plovers.

The three main components for the first 13-year increment are to protect 10,000 acres of land habitat — PRRIP Executive Director Jerry Kenny of Kearney said 12,000 acres have been acquired — and reduce depletions to river target flows by 130,000-150,000 acre-feet on average.

He said program partners brought 80,000 a-f of water toward the goal, leaving 50,000-80,000 a-f still to achieve.

Platte River Recovery Implementation Program

Grazing leases and public access for hiking and waterfowl hunting will likely continue at the Cottonwood Ranch site where a berm-focused Platte River Recovery Implementation Program water project may be built late this year or early in 2018. Lori Potter, Kearney Hub

The Cottonwood Ranch property was acquired as wet meadow and lowland grassland habitat, Farnsworth said, “but we had issues keeping water in this area.”

“Soon, we will incorporate this whole area as a broad-scale recharge project that can hold water from the Platte if there is a flow excess,” he said, beyond targets set by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Berms will be 5-6 feet tall.

“It will be a couple hundred acres of water 6 to 12 to 14 inches deep. That’s perfect for these birds,” Farnsworth said about the habitat that will be created to attract migrating whooping cranes.

To read more of this article by Lori Potter of the Kearney Hub, click here.

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