Platte River Flow Restoration
Recovery efforts for Threatened and Endangered species in Nebraska’s Platte River basin are successfully reestablishing river flows and habitats, along with promoting greater water management and local economic vitality. This is being accomplished collaboratively by a diverse group of stakeholders using a structured Adaptive Management Plan (AMP) process. These stakeholders include environmental interests throughout the basin, urban water providers in Colorado, irrigators in three states, hydropower producers in Nebraska, and the recreation industry. Institutional stakeholders include the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program (PRRIP), whose science-based approach is leading a joint three-State and federal government effort for species recovery. These recovery efforts have been active for over 20 years, with the stakeholders developing trust-based relationships with one another.
Recognizing that invasive species control was not anticipated in the Platte River’s recovery efforts, the Platte Valley Weed Management Area (PVWMA) stepped-up to the task and dramatically cleaned the river channel of invasive, non-native species. The PVWMA is comprised of the same stakeholders as the larger Platte River recovery efforts, plus local county weed specialists who bridge the gap between local landowners and the larger recovery efforts. Using a systematic approach for initial clean-up and subsequent maintenance, over 42,000 acres of channel area have been restored and maintained since 2008. This covers over 330 river miles and accounts for over 100,000 acre-feet in reduced consumptive water use by invasive species since this time.
However, despite the success, the River’s flow and habitat improvements, and accompanying water management and recreational benefits, have been under constant risk due to proliferation of invasive species. Phragmites, a non-native reed (Phragmites australis) is the main culprit. It is a relatively new pest from outside the region, unforeseen when river recovery efforts were formulated and funded, which has adapted well to the same river conditions needed to improve wildlife habitat. Their explosive growth consumptively uses water that would otherwise contribute to the river’s needed base flow. Plus, phragmites choke the channel, with associated adverse impacts to the natural environment and to man-made water uses depending on natural flow natural conveyance in the river channel. If left unchecked, phragmite damage to the channel would likely undo all previous flow and habitat restoration efforts, and associated economic benefits, within a matter of a few years.
* Project restores natural hydrologic conditions to facilitate improved capture and infiltration of surface water and groundwater recharge