The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, in coordination with the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program, plans to release water from Lake McConaughy this February and March to improve downstream habitat for threatened and endangered species. This late winter release, from the “environmental account” stored at Lake McConaughy, will start Monday and may continue through March 15, according to a press release from PRRIP.
The PRRIP is a cooperative basinwide effort to assist in the recovery of threatened and endangered species in the Central and Lower Platte River. The threatened and endangered target species of the PRRIP are the whooping crane, piping plover, interior least tern and pallid sturgeon. The environmental account is water dedicated to environmental flow purposes, including benefit to the threatened and endangered target species of the PRRIP.
The planned release will be similar to historic river rises, which resulted from late winter runoff across the lower elevations of the Platte River basin above Grand Island. Historic high flows helped remove vegetation from the riverbanks and kept the river wide and shallow with bare stretches of sand. This provided a safe place for whooping cranes and other birds to rest at night, allowing the birds to keep predators in sight, and provided sandbars for nesting for least terns and piping plovers. In addition, the historical seasonal high-water levels likely increased the size and distribution of biologically productive wetlands.
According to the press release, environmental account water traveling down the North Platte channel below Lake McConaughy will be increased by approximately 300 cubic feet per second to 700 cfs.
The North Platte River at North Platte will remain well below the designated flood stage of 6.0 feet. Flows downstream of North Platte are expected to be significantly below flood stage.