You may recall late last summer I took a little trip by some of our southwest reservoirs and gave an update on the dam repairs at Red Willow, http://outdoornebraska.ne.gov/blogs/2011/09/red-willow-update/ . For the sake of a quick review, there were some cracks discovered in the back of the Red Willow dam a couple of years ago and when those were found the water level was immediately dropped as far as it could go. The water level in Red Willow has been at minimum pool since then. The Bureau of Reclamation explored the problem, came up with solutions, and this past fall began dam repairs. Here is what the Red Willow dam looked like late last August:
And here is what it looked like in early February:
Here is the view from the other end of the dam:
You can see that it is a major project, the entire backside of the Red Willow Dam is being redone. From what I have heard, the project has been going very well and may even be completed this year. If everything goes well, water levels in Red Willow may start recovering as early as this coming fall! Here is the latest news release on the project:
Great Plains Region
Billings, Mont.Media Contact:Lois Conway
Released On: January 23, 2012Public Access Limited During Red Willow Dam RepairsGRAND ISLAND, Neb.–The Bureau of Reclamation announced today that access to Red Willow Dam is restricted during construction and repair activities.
SEMA Construction of Centennial, Colo., has completed a significant amount of preparatory work and begun excavations at the Red Willow Dam site. For safety and security reasons, access to the construction site and travel across the dam will be off limits to the public during the construction period.
The northeast end of the dam is closed to the public. A small observation area at the southwest end of the dam has been constructed and is accessible by traveling north from McCook on Highway 83 for approximately 7 miles to Road 723, then proceeding west three-quarters of a mile to Road 383, north on Road 383 for one mile, west on Road 724 for one mile and then north on Road 382 for two-and-a-half miles.
SEMA Construction was awarded a contract of $15,346,900 in late Sept. 2011 to conduct extensive modifications of Red Willow Dam. Activities at the dam have included site mobilization, receiving and stockpiling gravel materials for filter construction, rerouting utilities, abandonment of several instrumentation sites, and removal and stockpiling of topsoil from the downstream face of the dam. SEMA construction is currently in the process of excavating the existing embankment.
Repairs to the dam, located 10 miles northwest of McCook, Neb., include excavation of the existing embankment and toe drain system; construction of filter/drainage blanket; construction of a two stage sand filter and coarse sand drain system, including a geotextile membrane; and construction of a downstream stability berm. Modifications will also occur downstream of the spillway and outlet works stilling basins, and limited portions of upstream dam face. A new drain system at the toe of the dam will be constructed, and additional monitoring wells will be installed.
Red Willow Dam is an earthfill embankment with a structural height of 126 feet that, when in operation, forms a reservoir of 86,630 acre-feet. An uncontrolled concrete spillway is located in the right abutment. An outlet works through the base of the dam provides for river and irrigation releases for downstream diversions.
# # #Reclamation is the largest wholesale water supplier and the second largest producer of hydroelectric power in the United States, with operations and facilities in the 17 Western States. Its facilities also provide substantial flood control, recreation, and fish and wildlife benefits. Visit our website at www.usbr.gov.
You can stay up-to-date on the Red Willow project here, http://www.usbr.gov/gp/nkao/redwillow/ .
Yes, while the water levels are at minimum pool, there has been some cedar tree removal on the adjacent wildlife areas and some brushpile fish attractors are being placed in the reservoir.
As you can see in the news release, the entire dam area is closed, but a person can view the construction work from the south end of the dam. This would also be a good time to take a look at the reservoir with the minimum amount of water and make some notes on structural elements that will hold fish when the water levels recover.
Of course fish populations in Red Willow have suffered during this maximum drawdown–fish need water! But, even at minimum pool, there has been enough water in Red Willow to keep fish alive and anglers can still launch boats and fish if they wish. Red Willow has a good population of relatively large pike right now, and anglers can catch several other species there as well. When the water levels return to full pool, there are going to be acres and acres of flooded weeds and trees at Red Willow. As we have seen on other Nebraska reservoirs in recent years, the higher water levels and flooded habitat will produce a boom in largemouth bass, panfish, and northern pike populations. Once the dam repairs are completed and the reservoir re-fills, there are going to be several years of excellent fishing coming at Red Willow!
Now it has been a month since I was out in southwest Nebraska, but let me tell you about some other observations I made while I was in that area. I know this past season was one of the toughest pheasant seasons that most Nebraska hunters ever experienced. I am old enough to tell you that with current farming practices and land use the habitat conditions now are nothing like they used to be. BUT, there are always pockets of good habitat and right now southwest Nebraska has the best habitat and pheasant populations in the entire state. I was out there right after the close of pheasant season and here is what I saw running along the road:
Here is what was on the other side of the road:
Habitat is where it’s at!