Niobrara River Among America’s Most Endangered Rivers
Sedimentation and Flooding Threaten Wild and Scenic RiverApril 17th, 2013
Eileen Fretz, American Rivers, 202-347-7550
Bob Olson, Niobrara resident, 402-857-3404
Mel Hansen, Niobrara resident, 402-229-3242
Richard Spellman, Niobrara resident, 402-556-0697
Paul Lepisto, Izaak Walton League, 605-220-1219
Rayder Swanson, Niobrara resident, 402-857-3515
Washington, D.C.- American Rivers named the Niobrara River among America’s Most Endangered Rivers® of 2013 today, shining a national spotlight on dam-related sediment buildup and flooding that threaten communities, recreation, and critical wildlife habitat.
“The America’s Most Endangered Rivers report is a call to action to save rivers that are facing a critical tipping point,” said Eileen Fretz of American Rivers. “We all need healthy rivers. They provide our drinking water, support the economies of our communities, and promote public health and quality of life. We hope citizens will take action to ensure a healthy Niobrara River for generations to come.”
At its confluence with the Missouri, the Niobrara is increasingly threatened by sediment backing up in the Niobrara delta behind the Missouri River’s Gavins Point Dam. The sediment build-up is so extreme that the overall level of the local water table has increased by several feet. This has led to flooded cropland and basements, and has impacted boating and other recreation. As the sediment builds within the system, the Niobrara is slowly losing the seeps, springs, riparian forests, prairies, and canyons that characterize this Wild and Scenic River.
American Rivers and its partners called on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to improve sediment management within the Missouri River system and to prioritize funding for this critical issue in their Fiscal Year 2015 budget, in order to safeguard the Niobrara National Recreational River and nearby communities.
“I am a lifelong resident of Niobrara and have been a part of the local Niobrara government since 1964. The citizens of Niobrara and the surrounding area have been dealing with the sediment issues since the introduction of Gavins Point Dam around 1957. We are located at the confluence of the Niobrara and Missouri Rivers and have gone thru the relocation of our town and the loss of many acres of quality farm land on both the Niobrara and Missouri Rivers,” said Bob Olson, a local resident. “Somehow we need to find a way to reverse this sediment issue while it is still possible to do so.”
“Thousands of acres of farmland have been inundated and permanently lost due to this sediment accumulation. Our home and numerous other homes in the area were destroyed. The river itself is in danger of gradually becoming a useless bog. We must address this sedimentation problem before any further harm is done to our community,” said Mel Hansen, a local resident.
“Time is running out. The confluence of the Niobrara and Missouri Rivers is the home of the Ponca Nation and the Santee Sioux Nation and the third oldest town in Nebraska. It is also where Lewis and Clark camped, and the lake named after them is being filled with sediment and destroyed,” said Rick Spellman, a local resident. “Engineering technologies and sediment management solutions are available to reverse this buildup of sediment. Now is the time to fix this man-made problem so future generations can marvel at the beauty of this place.”
“The sediment accumulation at the confluence of the Niobrara and the Missouri is threatening the health of two of America’s great rivers” says Paul Lepisto, a Regional Conservation Coordinator with the Izaak Walton League of America. “Steps must be taken to stem the growth of the Niobrara delta and find an acceptable method to pass some sediment through Gavins Point Dam. This will benefit the sediment-starved Missouri River below Gavins Point; improve the lifespan of the recreationally important Lewis and Clark Lake; and provide needed relief for the lower Niobrara.”
“I was born at the Missouri-Niobrara confluence, on 400 acres of land that barely exists. Good farmland, old grove cottonwoods and high river banks,” said local resident Rayder Swanson.
“All of this has been destroyed. Time has run out for this property that our family no longer owns. When that land became unusable we purchased land five miles up the Niobrara river. Over the years, that same thing has happened to that farmland, destroyed. We now own 500 acres of Niobrara river farmland that was once productive. Due to sediment deposition, it continues to pile sand in the river from upstream. The rate of land being ruined is averaging over 200 acres per year. Without immediate intervention, this land of the Ponca and Santee Indian Tribes will only be less and less desirable.”
The Niobrara River follows a winding course through three states and a landscape of steep bluffs and rolling hills. Portions of the Niobrara are designated Wild and Scenic, and provide habitat for abundant wildlife, including the endangered least tern and the threatened piping plover. The Niobrara also provides water for nearby communities, as well as fishing and boating opportunities for recreation enthusiasts.
The annual America’s Most Endangered Rivers® report is a list of rivers at a crossroads, where decisions in the coming months will determine the rivers’ fates. Over the years, the report has helped spur successes including the removal of outdated dams, the protection of rivers with Wild and Scenic designations, and the prevention of harmful development and pollution.