Flood Risk Drops on Platte River

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Flood Risk Drops on Platte River

By Mark Barmann. CREATED Jul 7, 2011

Lincoln, NE (AP) - Water flows on the Platte River have peaked and will start a gradual decline as Nebraska's irrigators divert more water out of the flooded river, state officials said Thursday.

State and local officials say are using much of the state's 8.6 million acres of irrigated land to disperse the water and minimize the Platte River flooding.

The North Platte River at Bridgeport was flowing at roughly 4,700 cubic feet per second on Thursday, said Tom Hayden, supervisor for the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources'
western field office. By the end of July, he said, the projected flow should fall to 3,000 cfs as more farmers water their crops. He said the water levels may bump up again in September, as irrigation
season ends, but by then much of the flooding will have cleared.

"Normally, we'd be skimping and tucking to get things done, because the water would be down really low. People fight over it," Hayden said. He paused, chuckled, and added: "No one's fighting

Officials say controlling the Platte River with irrigation is easier than with the much larger Missouri River, where flows have reached 160,000 cfs from South Dakota's Gavins Point Dam, and even
higher at places downstream.

The Platte River forms from the North Platte and South Platte rivers at the city of North Platte, slithering through central Nebraska to the southeast.

Hayden said diversions that started before irrigation season have kept the Platte River about 2 feet lower than the level it could have reached.

The river crested lower than expected because upstream snow didn't melt as quickly as predicted, said Central Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation District civil engineer Cory Steinke. As a
result, he said, reservoirs in Wyoming didn't have to release as much water at once.

Steinke warned that an intense rainstorm could fill the river more. But he said he was confident that North Platte and areas downstream had "dodged a bullet."

"We saw this coming," he said. "We started releasing water in early March, late February - whatever we could without causing major problems."

Steinke said his district had predicted flows as high as 13,000 cfs into Lake McConaughy, a western Nebraska lake, which would have set a record. The Corp projected 9,000 cfs around North Platte, but the actual amount was closer to 6,000 cfs.

Steinke said Lake McConaughy, a western Nebraska reservoir, was a half-foot shy of its normal maximum for this time of year, as allowed by the power district's operating license. The reservoir
has secured a federal waiver to raise the level another two feet if needed, he said.

"The situation could have been very bad, but it went as well as it could have," Steinke said.

Nebraska Department of Natural Resources Director Brian Dunigan said his office granted local irrigation districts a temporary permit to take water before the traditional irrigation season
started to absorb some water as the river swelled.

Hayden said the heaviest irrigation begins after the July 4 holiday. Water flows at the Whalen Diversion Dam are at roughly 7,500 cfs, he said.

Two irrigation channels, the Interstate and Fort Laramie canals, pull 3,500 cfs of water out of the Platte River. Small canals downstream divert another 1,000 to 1,500 cfs, Hayden said.