Drought drying up the Platte, could affect Lincoln’s future water supply

LINCOLN, Neb. (KLKN) — As you look west, the sights are grim through the lens of those in eastern Nebraska.

Dry land has replaced the flowing waters of the Platte River from central Nebraska to Columbus.

Irrigation this summer has depleted most of the reservoirs in the areas of the state in extreme drought: the northeast and southwest.

“Really since the first part of July, widespread areas of the state have been quite dry and quite warm,” said Brian Fuchs, climatologist for the National Drought Mitigation Center, which is based at UNL. “That means that water demand and water usage by those crops has really been increasing. During that time, irrigation has been going kind of nonstop, and when that starts happening, more and more of that groundwater is being utilized. That, in turn, will impact those flows on the Platte.”

But experts in Kearney who work to preserve habitats around the river say this is not uncommon.

“Out here, especially during droughts, it’s not super unusual for the river to go dry basically from Kearney down to Central City, or sort of that reach, during the irrigation season,” said Jason Farnsworth, executive director of the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program.

Experts are keeping an eye on the river downstream of Columbus to make sure it doesn’t go dry.

“If down below the Loup River, you have no flow, that’s sort of a really big deal,” Farnsworth said.

Near Ashland, the Platte does have running water.

This is due to the Loup and Elkhorn Rivers feeding into the river downstream of central Nebraska’s dry spots. Out west, the depth of the water depends on Lake McConaughy and runoff from the mountains in Wyoming and Colorado.

But with drought increasing in severity each week, climatologists are concerned about what this could mean for the wells in Ashland, where Lincoln gets its water.

The Drought Mitigation Center says it is monitoring the situation closely.

“You know, if we continue to see these reduced flows on the Platte, it may be one of those things that we could see some voluntary water restrictions,” Fuchs said. “I know we always tell people to conserve, but it may become to the point where we got to start formally having some of those discussions.”

And precipitation outlooks for the fall continue to look dry, according to the Climate Prediction Center.

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