Whooping Cranes, photo by Don BrockmeierWhooping Cranes, photo by Don Brockmeier

CNPPID invites birds “rest your wings!”

To our fine feathered friends:

Whooping cranes, least terns and piping plovers: Please visit our flat waters and relish the safe grounds and fields of tasty grains especially groomed for you, our avian guests.

Whooping cranes: You may book a short stay in the Platte River Basin between North Platte and Grand Island to loaf and refuel for your flight to Canada in the spring and again on your return trip to winter in Texas.

Piping plovers and least terns: Please reserve a home stay to nest on a sand bar in the Platte River or a select pile of pebbles on the shores of Lake McConaughy.

Accommodations were recently refurbished for your comfort and convenience. We welcome you in Central Nebraska.

Your host and admirer,
Central Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation

Adding wildlife protection to Central’s role

photo by Don Brockmeier
photo by Don Brockmeier

Central’s primary business is irrigation. Their mission is providing irrigation water to a region where rainfall is inadequate for consistent agricultural production. Rehabbing Platte River habitat to accommodate least terns, piping plovers and whooping cranes didn’t appear on Central’s plate until 1984 when the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) required Central to relicense their hydro power plants. Whenever water is taken out of the river, a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is required, along with a consultation with U.S. Fish and Wildlife. Relicensing was a very big task for Central.

“Nebraska’s hydro power projects draw water out of the Platte, store it, and redirect its flow through hydro power plants,” said Mike Drain, hydrologist and project manager at Central. “Colorado and Wyoming also were involved because they were diverting water from the Platte and storing it in reservoirs for later use.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Endangered Species Act complicated the relicensing process.

“The relicensing process was lengthy and contentious in great part because it followed on the heels of the Endangered Species Act,” said Jerry Kenny, executive director of the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program.

photo by Don Brockmeier
photo by Don Brockmeier

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife biologists identified least terns, piping plovers, whooping cranes and the pallid sturgeon as threatened or endangered species, and each species is dependent in various ways upon the Platte River flows and habitat.

Conservation of natural resources and natural environment needs to be addressed

To relicense the hydro power project, Central needed to address natural resource conservation and the natural environment in the Central Platte River Basin.

A cooperative agreement was signed by the governors of Colorado, Wyoming, and Nebraska and the United States secretary of the interior to develop a long-term recovery program for threatened and endangered species habitat along the central reach of the Platte River.

Whooping Cranes, photo by Don Brockmeier
Whooping Cranes, photo by Don Brockmeier

“The agreement addresses the needs of four threatened or endangered species using the Platte River Basin while allowing water development to continue to occur,” Kenny said. “The agreement proposed a framework for a long-term recovery implementation program to aid these species.”

Read more about the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program on their website.

Recovery targets

The Platte Recovery Implementation Program started working to address the endangered species as identified by U.S. Fish and Wildlife. An 11-member board was organized. Implementation began and the board hired Kenny as executive director. Recovery targets were set by U.S. Fish and Wildlife:


1. Timing Flows: Increasing stream flow in the Central Platte River during relevant periods and regulating the flow in early spring during the crane migration

2. Water Quality: Monitoring water quality and addressing the low oxygen levels in Lake Ogallala, a tailrace reservoir below Lake McConaughy


Central has a FERC-approved Land and Shoreline Management Plan that sets guidelines for development, use and wildlife protection along the entire shore of the facilities.


As part of its FERC license and the Land and Shoreline Management Plan, Central is providing protection for piping plovers and least terns along the shores of its facilities, as well as perch and roost trees for bald eagles. These protections will help to improve production of least tern and piping plover from the Central Platte River Valley, improve survival of whooping cranes during migration, and avoid adverse impact from program actions on pallid sturgeon populations.

Platte River Recovery Program “truly amazing”

Piping Plover, photo by Platte River Recovery
Piping Plover, photo by Platte River Recovery

The Platte River Recovery Program is on target to achieve these goals and is praised as among the most successful habitat recovery programs in the United States.

“Truly amazing,” said U.S. Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar, describing the progress made to protect habitat and enhance river flows during his March 14, 2011, visit to Nebraska. (Source: Bi-Annual Report 11/12 Platte River Recovery Program)

The relicensing process is succeeding in great part because the federal, state and public entities agreed to collaborate instead of fight for control of the outcome.

“In the beginning, we determined that the most efficient way to achieve the desired outcome, to relicense the hydro power projects, was to work together,” Drain said. ”We knew the requirements laid down by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife, and we elected to address the species issue instead of fighting it and blaming each other. We all wanted to use the water, and we recognized that the Endangered Species Act is in our future, and we have to live with it.”

Innovative decision making

photo by Don Brockmeier
photo by Don Brockmeier

The Platte River Recovery stakeholders designed a decision- making process that is innovative and has made major progress in meeting the project goals

“What is really impressive concerning program success is that various parties of different interests are working together to resolve their water interests and provide for the species,” Drain said. “We know that the Endangered Species Act will require us to do something potentially far more onerous if we don’t succeed.”

A comprehensive management system also contributes to the project’s success. Data is collected through an independent scientific advisory committee to inform board decisions. Reports are reviewed by experts.

“The committee’s function is to make sure we are doing things right and doing the right thing,” Kenny said. “And what we are documenting will give the information to the address the question. We make sure the science is pristine and immaculate. We succeed because the board trusts that the science is credible.”

Conservation is Central’s mission

Standing Tern, photo by Platte River Recovery
Standing Tern, photo by Platte River Recovery

Central’s long-range strategic plan and mission statement now reads:

“The mission of the Central Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation District is to serve the agricultural-based community in south-central Nebraska by protecting and utilizing in a sustainable and ecologically balanced manner all of the natural resources available to us to provide reliable and reasonably priced surface water irrigation and ground water recharge while producing electric power and preserving and enhancing our quality of life and the natural environment in which we live.”     

The Platte River Recovery Implementation Program was recognized as a model for conserving and restoring a river while complying with the Endangered Species Act. In 2011, the program and the Platte River Recreation Access program were chosen by Secretary Salazar as the two Nebraska projects that represent the most promising ways to reconnect Americans to the natural world. The projects were also selected as part of President Obama’s America’s Great Outdoors initiative to establish a 21st century conservation and recreation agenda. The projects were identified for their potential to conserve important lands and build recreation opportunities and economic growth for the surrounding communities. (Source: Bi-Annual Report 11/12 Platte River Recovery Implementation Program)

Central invites you to join the avian guests who stop every year to rest, eat and recreate in the popular and impressive irrigation, recreation and conservation project. Camp in the campgrounds, play in the waterways, photograph the scenic canyon views and the wildlife, drink the fresh clean water pulled from the aquifer, and relish clear skies and long views.

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