Nebraska's Shrinking Platte River Channel: Biological Aspects and Implications

by Barry A. Smith, Ecological Analysts Inc, Lincoln, NE, USA,

Document Type: Proceeding Paper

Part of: Water for Resource Development


Since the completion of major water projects along Nebraska's Platte River system in 1941, vegetative encroachment and channel narrowing have substantially altered the central reach of the river from Overton to Grand Island, which serves as migratory habitat for endangered whooping cranes, sandhill cranes, and other avian species. Prevailing theory maintains that these changes have resulted from reductions in peak and mean annual flow influenced by the activation of upstream storage and diversion facilities. However, examination of historical changes in river discharge and vegetation growth patterns indicates that a progressive shift from intermittent to perennial flow within this reach, as affected by water project operation, was a principle causative factor. Minimum baseflow requirements currently being advocated as a component of instream-flow policy are thus expected to perpetuate conditions influencing vegetative encroachment and channel narrowing, thereby necessitating the use of artificial vegetative-clearing methods to maintain wildlife habitat.

Subject Headings: Biological processes | Cranes | Storage facilities | Water discharge | Rivers and streams | Aquatic habitats | River systems | High-rise buildings | Nebraska | United States

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