05-10 Water tour to central Platte River basin June 27-29, 2017

The summer Water and Natural Resources Tour will look at surface and groundwater issues in the central Platte River basin June 27-29.

Nebraskans rely heavily on water flowing through this critical stretch of the Platte River to support a very diverse range of important issues that includes agriculture, hydropower production, recreation and water for wildlife and threatened and endangered species. It is arguably the most critical section of river in the entire state, according to Steve Ress, communicator for the University of Nebraska’s Nebraska Water Center (NWC), part of the Daugherty Water for Food Global Institute (DWFI).

NWC and DWFI are co-sponsoring and co-planning the annual tour with The Central Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation District. Other sponsors include UNL’s Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources and Nebraska Public Power District.

Increasing and competing demands on the basin’s finite supplies of water will be central to discussions and stops on this summer’s three-day tour as it delves into surface and groundwater irrigation, water rights, hydropower production, trans-basin diversions of water and many other topics.

The tour begins and ends in Holdrege. It will visit an organic farming operation, irrigation and hydropower production facilities, Natural Resources District projects, and look at the history and current directions for water use in the basin, including presentations on current and planned diversion projects.

“The Platte River, which travels more than a 1,000 miles from its headwaters in Colorado to the Missouri River, is fed primarily by snowmelt from the Rocky Mountains and is one of the most significant tributary systems in the Missouri River watershed.  Tour topics thus focus on topics associated with the interaction between development and preservation and efforts to wisely utilize its water to meet the many demands placed upon it,” said CNPPID public relations coordinator Jeff Buettner, a tour organizer.

Points of interest will include Frito-Lay’s Gothenburg Corn Handling Facility and Monsanto’s Water Utilization Learning Center and a Nebraska Game and Parks Commission hatchery at North Platte.

Cropping and irrigation experts at UNL’s West Central Research and Extension Center in North Platte will speak on advancements in research and technology. Recently completed water transfer and pipeline facilities built by the Nebraska Cooperative Republican Platte Enhancement Project (or NCORPE) will be visited, as will NPPD’s Gerald Gentleman power plant near Sutherland and many of the structures used for regulating water use and flows into and out of Lake McConaughy near Ogallala.

Time will be spent kayaking CNPPID’s main irrigation supply canal from Midway Lake to the Gallagher Canyon State Recreation Area on the tour’s third and final day.

“We want to include as many entities and organizations with a stake in using the basin’s waters as we possibly can and to present as broad an overview of why this stretch of the river is so important to all of us in the three days we have,” Ress said.

Tour information is online at watercenter.unl.edu as it become available. Organizers anticipate limiting registrations to about 55 people. Registration is $475 per person single occupancy or $400 per person double occupancy. Registration includes all lodging, food and motor coach expenses. Space is limited and registration is first-come, first-served. To register, email hrahmann@cnppid.com or phone (308) 995-8601.

The tours began as summer irrigation field tours initiated by then UNL Chancellor D.B. “Woody” Varner more than 40 years ago.

“Their scope and emphasis has evolved and broadened since then to encompass many other water, natural resources and environmental-related topics impacting Nebraska,” Ress said.