Future of the Niobrara River, One of America’s Most Endangered Rivers of 2008, Still Hangs in the Balance

Eight months after "Most Endangered River" listing, action still needed to improve water management

December 11th, 2008

Amy Kober, American Rivers, 206-213-0330 x23
Bruce Kennedy, Nebraska Wildlife Federation, 402-796-2114
Mel Thornton, Friends of the Niobrara, 402-477-7597

Washington, DC — Eight months after American Rivers named the Niobrara River one of America’s Most Endangered Rivers™ for 2008, decisionmakers have yet to act to ensure that enough water remains in the river to protect the recreation and tourism economy and the river’s fish and wildlife. American Rivers and its partners urged the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission to apply for an instream flow right and the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources to approve the application.

The Niobrara River, one of Nebraska’s biggest tourist attractions, is in danger of losing its lifeblood — water. A Wild and Scenic River that attracts tens of thousands of paddlers and outdoor enthusiasts, the Niobrara valley also supports irrigation of more than 600,000 acres of farmland. Additional irrigation applications currently pending with Nebraska’s Department of Natural Resources could, if granted, seriously endanger flows that also support fish, wildlife, and recreation.

In the first six months of 2007, five times more water was requested for additional irrigation purposes from the river than in all of the 1980s. The 2006 level of the river was the fifth lowest since 1946. In 2007, some irrigators had their pumping restricted because of low water. Kayakers and canoeists today notice more exposed sandbars and rock ledges that make it even harder to float this already naturally shallow river, which was named one of the best paddling rivers in America by Backpacker magazine.

An important part of the solution to the problems facing the Niobrara lies with the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. By summer or fall 2009, the agency is expected to submit its application for an instream flow water right that would include the 76 mile Wild and Scenic section of the river. If granted, this right would ensure an adequate flow of water remains in the river to support the many benefits and services a healthy Niobrara can provide.

On the legislative front, the Natural Resources Committee of the Nebraska Legislature held a public hearing in mid-August 2008 regarding the possibility of changing instream flow regulations. American Rivers and its partners called on the 2009 Legislature to simplify, not hinder or prevent, the instream flow application process.

“A healthy Niobrara River demands that Nebraskans continue to carefully balance the needs of communities, wildlife, recreation and agriculture,” said Rebecca Wodder, President of American Rivers. “The question for Nebraskans is really very simple: Do we want to take all the water out of the river, or do we want to leave enough water in the river to protect current irrigation, fish, wildlife, and recreation? As a native Nebraskan, I’m convinced we can be Cornhuskers and water conservationists at the same time.”

“If we do not strike a balance between water taken out and water left in, we could very well lose the river,” said Bruce Kennedy, President of Nebraska Wildlife Federation. “All the stakeholders in Niobrara River water, along with our elected officials and state agencies, need to work together to keep the Niobrara healthy today and for generations to come.”

The Niobrara begins its journey in eastern Wyoming and flows across the entire state of Nebraska before emptying into the Missouri river. At more than 530 miles long, it is Nebraska’s longest river. Its waters and banks are home to a number of threatened and endangered species, including the piping plover, least tern, and whooping crane. It is one of only two Wild and Scenic Rivers in the Cornhusker state (two sections of the Missouri have also been protected by this landmark law).

About America’s Most Endangered Rivers™

Each year, American Rivers solicits nominations from thousands of river groups, environmental organizations, outdoor clubs, local governments, and taxpayer watchdogs for the America’s Most Endangered Rivers™ report. The report highlights the rivers facing the most uncertain futures rather than those suffering from the worst chronic problems. The report presents alternatives to proposals that would damage rivers, identifies those who make the crucial decisions, and points out opportunities for the public to take action on behalf of each listed river.

The America’s Most Endangered Rivers™ report results in thousands of supporters taking action on behalf of their beloved river. Such action produces immediate and tangible results. To see success stories visit www.AmericanRivers.org/MERSuccesses 


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About American Rivers

About American Rivers

American Rivers protects wild rivers, restores damaged rivers, and conserves clean water for people and nature. Since 1973, American Rivers has protected and restored more than 150,000 miles of rivers through advocacy efforts, on-the-ground projects, and an annual America’s Most Endangered Rivers® campaign. Headquartered in Washington, DC, American Rivers has offices across the country and more than 200,000 members, supporters, and volunteers.

Rivers connect us to each other, nature, and future generations. Find your connections at AmericanRivers.org, Facebook.com/AmericanRivers, and Twitter.com/AmericanRivers.