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River group calls for less talk, more action

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Bud Meckelburg
OBERLIN -- What'd Shakespeare say? "The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers"?

The vice chairman of a grassroots organization whose goal is to improve the health of the Republican River isn't really advocating killing lawyers. But Bud Meckelburg is frustrated by too much talk and not enough action.

"There's just too many *$)%?#!# lawyers involved," Meckelburg, of Greeley, Colo., told those gathered in Oberlin Thursday for the meeting of the Republican River Restoration Partners. The group envisions Nebraska, Kansas and Colorado working together to achieve long-term benefits for the Republican.

Ted Tietjen
Ted Tietjen of Grant, chairman of the Triple R-P, said that because of the Republican River Compact and the state-vs-state water fights that Compact litigation fuels, everyone's attention is focused on the legalities of the 1943 agreement that divides the Republican's water supply among Colorado, Kansas and Nebraska ... the action of one state ... the reactions of the others. " -- not on the health of the river, not on long-term benefits," Tietjen said.

Meckelburg said. "We have an opportunity with this organization to get the three states together. We've got every opportunity to do some great things on the Republican."

Meckelburg concluded, "It comes down to this: You can't be bashful when you've got a principle to stand up for." He concluded, "Keep the lawyers out, and common sense in."

Linda Zahl

Meckelburg sees four things that need to be done on the South Fork of the Republican River, particularly at the west edge of Bonny Reservoir, located near Hale, Colo., just west of the Kansas border in Yuma County, to improve the health of the river in Colorado and to move more water downstream:

1. Remove acres of cattails in silt-filled ponds behind man-made duck-blind dikes. "There's hundreds of acres of cattails in the silt," Meckelburg said.

Roger Stockton
2. Control, eradicate or eliminate Russian olive, salt cedar and noxious weeds. Meckelburg estimates 2,200 canopy-cover acres of salt cedar and Russian olive on the west edge of Bonny. Meckelburg said he's very impressed with work by the Southwest Weed Management Area (in Nebraska) to remove invasive tree species on the Republican through Southwest Nebraska to improve natural streamflow. "The tree-cutters in Nebraska are really having an impact," he said.

3. Uncover 36 natural springs that have silted over and no longer flow.

4. Shut down the state's high-capacity irrigation pumps. Meckelburg feels, however, that, overall, landowners' conservation efforts have had a bigger impact on streamflow than wells.

"How can this river ever flow?" Meckelburg asked. "It's a train wreck down there."

Meckelburg isn't content to sit and wait for the state and conservation officials to solve problems on the South Fork. He has plans he wants to implement, and is eyeing some state funds. "Five million would be a good start to fixing these problems," he said.

He told those gathered in Oberlin he wants lawyers out and common sense in.

Two Southwest Nebraska women seem to agree with Meckelburg -- it will require local effort to improve the health of the Republican.

Linda Zahl of Stratton and Pam Potthoff of Trenton said "SOS" -- Save Our Swanson -- is a group of Swanson Lake users bent on taking care of the recreation area.

Zahl said that in July 2009, Game and Parks reduced Swanson Lake to a "minimum maintenance dam and area," which means, Zahl said, "they're not going to do a lot with the lake."

Zahl said seven years of drought have dropped the water table and exposed ever-expanding and vulnerable beaches to fast and easy growing invasive and aggressive trees, bushes and weeds. "Neglect has rendered the shores useless for many recreational activities," Zahl said.

Rather than sit around and wait for the state to do something, SOS offered to cooperate with Game and Parks to clean up overgrowth on Swanson's beaches. Last summer, volunteers used big equipment provided by the Frenchman Cambridge Irrigation District to clear 19 acres of shoreline on the south side of the lake and 12.2 acres on the north. Their goal this year is to clear 38 acres in the bay at the south boat ramp, 15.4 acres of shoreline west of Macklin Bay and 5.5 acres of trees in standing water on the north shore.

The group's ultimate goals are to make the beaches accessible to picnickers and to get Game and Parks to once again declare Swanson a "primary full-maintenance lake."

Potthoff admitted that she thinks "big. I would like to see a walking trail and organized activities for kids, like bird-watching." Her ultimate goal, she said, "is a visitors' center."

Potthoff said there are so many educational opportunities associated with the Trenton lake and Southwest Nebraska -- the Republican River flood of 1935, the Republican Valley Conservation Association responsible for promoting and building dams and lakes on the Republican, the construction of the dams, the history of irrigation, Massacre Canyon -- that could be the focus of a visitors' center.

Another effort to clean up the shorelines of the Republican River could take place this spring and summer, if a plan to involve AmeriCorps crews becomes a reality.

Roger Stockton, coordinator of Resource Conservation and Development (RC&D), Cambridge, told those gathered in Oberlin that AmeriCorps NCCC (National Civilian Community Corps) can provide a 12-person team for eight weeks, to cut down invasive Russian olive, red cedar and salt cedar trees growing on the banks of the Republican River and on beaches at Swanson and Enders lakes. Stockton estimates they could cover 10 acres a day, or 400 acres in eight weeks (Monday through Friday) of good weather.

Crew members, 18 to 24 years old, would come from AmeriCorps' North Central Region headquarters in Vinton, Iowa. The RC&D would provide lodging (possibly at Lakeview Lodge on Swanson Lake); access to a kitchen so that crew members can prepare their meals, if they're not provided; and all equipment necessary for the tree-removal project, such as a loader, chain saws and protective gear. AmeriCorps provides transportation.

Stockton said a grant can be written to cover loader lease/rental and the purchase/lease of chain saws and protective gear. At a cost of $12,000 to $15,000, Stockton said, that's less expensive than mechanized removal. Private landowners may be asked to contribute $20 per acre, which is one-sixth of what it would cost to have a contractor do it, he said.

"This is a different approach to removing invasive trees," Stockton said, "a low-dollar approach, but it can work."

"It fits well in our river projects," Stockton said. "And it's a great alternative for landowners who are concerned with the impact of mechanized contractors on their land."

The health of playa lakes can be improved to increase recharge into the Ogallala Aquifer, Ted Tietjen said.

Playa (pronounced ply-a) lakes -- buffalo wallows, wetland, salt pans -- are shallow depressions, primarily in shortgrass prairie, formed through wind and water erosion. Playas have no inlet or outlet; they fill occasionally and evaporate quickly.

Playas are a primary source of Ogallala recharge, Tietjen said, as water seeps through fissures and along plant roots channels in the playa's clay layer and at the playa edge.

They're important as hosts for wintering, breeding and migratory waterfowl and grassland birds. The lakes' wet-dry cycles are critical to maintaining wetland vegetation that provides forage and cover for birds, Tietjen said.

Southwest Nebraska, Northwest Kansas and Northeast Colorado have an estimated 20,828 playas and wetlands:

* Southwest Nebraska -- 14,258 in Dundy County, 1,421; Chase County, 4,124; Perkins County, 7,655; Lincoln County, 495; and Hayes County, 563.

* Northwest Kansas -- 1,561 in Cheyenne County, 498; Thomas County, 540; Rawlins County, 60; Sherman County, 444; and Decatur, 19.

* Northeast Colorado -- 5,009 in Sedgwick County, 224; Phillips County, 221; Yuma County, 1,089; Washington County, 2,043; and Kit Carson County, 1,432.

Over the entire Ogallala Aquifer, it's estimated there are 46,828 playas.

Sediment layers in a playa are formed and increased with time and evaporation, Tietjen said, reducing water volume, increasing evaporation and reducing recharge into the Ogallala. Other threats to the health of a playa include contamination and the growth of invasive plants.

Tietjen said that some initial research shows that a playa's recharge into the Ogallala can be increased by digging straight-sided trenches along the lake's perimeter. Further study is needed, Tietjen said, into the length and depth of the trenches, and just how much recharge can be created.

Tietjen is proposing that Nebraska, Kansas and Colorado water, conservation, natural resource, geological and wildlife organizations and growers and ranchers should be involved in playa recharge research.

More information on playa lakes can be found on the Web site for Playa Lakes Joint Ventures: pljv.org

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This has to be one of the most amazing stories about the Republican River that has been put together that I have read about.

I wish that everyone living in Neb.,Kansas and Colo could read this story, they would finally realize why water doesn't run down the river as it used to do.

Thanks for the good story!

P.S. I would likely nominate Mr.Meckelburg

for President of the U.S.and maybe choose

the other contributers to this story as

his staff.

Thank You.

-- Posted by BobBee on Tue, Jan 19, 2010, at 3:30 PM

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