OGALLALA, Neb. — The situation doesn't look good for Lake McConaughy.
If conditions are as dry as last year, the lake could drop 25 feet, said Cory Steinke, civil engineer for the Central Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation District.
Steinke said inflows have been around 870 cubic feet per second, or about 75 percent of normal. On Monday, the reservoir was at an elevation of 3,242.6 feet, or 65.7 percent of capacity.
There doesn't seem to be much help on the way. Steinke said snowpack in the upper North Platte River basin is currently 79 percent of average. It's 67 percent of average in the lower basin and 83 percent of average in the South Platte River basin.
“We're probably close to our peak now,” Steinke said.
Whatever level McConaughy hits will be temporary. The elevation will go down again once irrigation season kicks into full swing, which is usually around the first part of July.
“We probably won't have as many boat ramps working this summer,” Steinke said. “By the end of the year, the one at Martin Bay and the one at Diver's Bay may be the only docks in operation.”
On the up side, the beaches will be bigger. Steinke said some people like it that way —- not just because they have more room for camping, but also because when the water is high and backed up into the trees, it's not as conducive to boating.
As for the impact the water levels will have on agriculture, Steinke said Central Nebraska Public Power is still planning on irrigation allocations of 10 inches per acre, compared with the normal 18-inch supply.
Meanwhile, water levels in the North Platte River will increase temporarily starting this week. Steinke said releases are scheduled through April 16. They are expected to remain below the 6-foot flood stage.
The outflows are intended to benefit endangered species such as whooping cranes, least terns and piping plovers.