The Middle Platte Watershed, Nebraska
The 5,000-square-mile middle Platte River Watershed in central Nebraska includes a 165-mile environmentally critical reach of the three-state Platte River Basin. This river segment provides transient and permanent habitats for several migratory and nonmigratory species, including 500,000 Sandhill Cranes and most of the world's endangered Whooping Crane populations.
Virtually all of the watershed is privately owned, with a high percentage of the land dedicated to irrigated corn production. All of the six "large" communities in the watershed are located in the Platte River Valley. They range in population from 4,000 to 40,000, and each is an economic, social, and cultural center for its residents, and for those living in nearby smaller towns and surrounding rural areas. The economic, social, cultural, and environmental future of the middle Platte River Watershed will be shaped by the residents who collectively own the land and, to a lesser degree, by the agencies and organizations that have management responsibility within the area.
Creating a Vision for the Watershed's Future
EPA Region 7's goal during this five-year project was to assist the watershed's "community" with collectively determining its vision for the watershed and developing and implementing a comprehensive, long-range plan for realizing that vision. Toward this end, EPA conducted several requested studies and encouraged coordination among the various watershed groups. Major efforts included:
- identifying and explaining the economic values that can be attributed to the watershed's natural resources to the watershed's community;
- encouraging the formation of a diverse planning group to develop and implement long-range plan(s) for the watershed.
- surveying watershed residents to identify their issues, concerns, and their thoughts on the watershed's future; and
- determining the economic, social, cultural, historical, recreational, and environmental values the residents attribute to the watershed;
The community-requested support over the life of this project included various tasks including funding college-aged summer hires, helping to reestablish native vegetation sites and conducting extensive, multi-year, peer-reviewed research. All six of the major research efforts were completed and are available to the public. They include:
- An overview of the economic activities within the watershed;
- A summary of the social economic issues;
- Identifying the cultural, and recreational activities, including several predictive models;
- A study focusing exclusively on nature tourism opportunities, especially from the Sandhill Crane migrations;
- A study outlining the economic value of the watershed's natural resources;
- A socio-cultural report capturing the views of the agricultural and nonagricultural interests;
- A compilation of the issues, concerns, and hopes of small-town residents throughout the watershed.
One major EPA-funded activity in the watershed - an ecological risk assessment of the Platte River floodplain's environmental resources - remains to be completed. Although not directly a part of Region 7's CBEP activities, the assessment will help watershed managers and residents make sound environmental decisions that support the community's watershed vision. The assessment is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2000.
The Middle Platte River Facts
- The Platte River system in Nebraska provides domestic water supplies to 70 percent of the State's population.
- The Platte River serves as a vital link in the central flyway, providing habitat for 300 species of migratory birds.
- Approximately 260,000 people live in the middle Platte River Watershed.
- 500,000 Sandhill Cranes, the largest concentration in the world, stop over in the middle Platte River valley each year during their annual migrations.
- Eighty percent of the world's Whooping Crane population use the middle Platte River valley each year during their annual migrations.
- The whooping crane is one of the rarest birds in North America, not to mention the tallest.
EPA Region 7 Contact
Kathleen L. Fenton
CARE Program Manager