Don’t Bury My River

Today’s guest blog about the #10 Niobrara River- a part of our America’s Most Endangered Rivers® series- is from Mel Hansen, a local long-term resident of Knox County, Nebraska.

Take Action to Protect the
Niobrara River

Tell the Army Corps to protect local communities from flooding by addressing sediment issues!

My wife and I started visiting the Lazy River Acres area in Knox County, Nebraska in 1971.   We bought property adjacent to the Missouri River and built a house in 1977.  Since that time, our family has enjoyed the quiet company of the Niobrara and Missouri Rivers. 

I am aware that the Army Corps of Engineers has promoted study after study regarding removal of sediment that flows into the Missouri River from the Niobrara River causing a delta that is spreading East and West on the Missouri and up the Niobrara River and Verdigre Creek.  This build-up of sediment was initiated by the construction of Gavins Point Dam at Yankton, South Dakota, in the mid 1950’s. 

I am personally aware of studies that were done before the construction of Gavins Point Dam from the 1940’s; the studies noted that the construction of the dam would cause a sedimentation problem for the Niobrara River.  Obviously, the studies were correct.

Over time, some of the proposed solutions to the problem have been impractical and extremely expensive.  Rather than find a solution, the Army Corps has just commissioned study after study and taken absolutely no concerted action to resolve this problem.

Because of the Army Corps’ inaction, thousands of acres of farm land have been lost to permanent flooding.  The river channel between Fort Randall Dam and Lewis & Clark Lake (a reservoir created by Gavins Point Dam), which before construction of Gavins Point Dam could hold 150,000 cubic feet per second without flooding, began flooding in 2011 at 40,000 cubic feet per second.  This directly resulted in the loss of our home and many other homes in the area.

The town of Niobrara has flooded and been moved.  Niobrara State Park has been flooded and moved.  Thousands of acres of farm land have been inundated and are permanently lost unless the sedimentation issue is addressed.  The river itself is in danger of gradually becoming a useless bog.

In 1991, these portions of the Niobrara and Missouri Rivers were designated as Wild and Scenic Rivers entitled to protections under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.  At that time, the Army Corps asserted that the Missouri and Niobrara Rivers were essentially the same as encountered by Lewis & Clark in 1804.  Actually, this claim was not true.  The river in its present situation has about one-third of the capacity as that encountered by Lewis & Clark due to poor dam management by the Army Corps.

This portion of the Missouri River— the only remaining free-flowing part of the river that has not been channeled or otherwise disturbed— is gradually disappearing and is merely a shadow of what was seen by those adventurous explorers in the past.  Something must be done to reverse the damage to the Niobrara and Missouri Rivers before it’s too late.

Lend your voice to protect the Niobrara by telling the Army Corps to finally deal with this sedimentation problem!