In the Rainwater Basin, nearly all wetlands have been altered from their
historical condition. Surrounding upland has been leveled, wetlands have
been filled (with soil) and drained, roads have been built, and pits have been
dug. Each practice drained, diverted, or concentrated runoff water that
once spread out over the shallow wetlands. The loss of surface water in
wetlands forces millions of birds to concentrate on smaller and fewer
areas. High bird concentrations stress the birds and increase the risk of
disease outbreaks. Avian cholera occurs annually in Rainwater Basin, the
record high was as many as 100,000 birds during spring migration. The
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service pumps water to numerous wetlands to ensure
habitat is available and to reduce the outbreak of disease.
The recent years of drought have had a significant impact on wetlands.
Irrigators and users of groundwater are being asked to be more efficient with
their use. The two goals we strive for with fall pumping is: 1. To
make the limited amount of funding we have available go further, and 2.
To try to have at least a small portion of the water pumped in the fall
available for the next spring migration. Warm days and nights allow for
quick evaporation of any water pumped. Actively growing aquatic plants
consume additional water as well. Usually by mid-September, light frosts
have greatly reduced plant growth and evaporation. Our pumping normally
begins in mid to late October. This does not help provide water for early
migrants, like teal, but with limited funding later pumping is the best use of
Spring pumping is delayed until early February. Heavy snows or spring
rains can quickly fill the shallow wetlands: saving pumping costs.
Because evaporation is not a problem, as with fall pumping, wetlands can be
filled quickly. Pumping in early February provides habitat by the time
large numbers of birds begin to arrive.
Wetland vegetation management, using livestock grazing, prescribed burning, and
disking, is allowing more waterfowl habitat using less pumping. The
result is the ability to pump more areas with the same amount of
We are slowly increasing the number of submersible pumps we have throughout
the District. Submersible pumps are located deep in the well and require
no daily inspection or maintenance. This allows us to turn on one or two
wells without having to commit a staff person to monitor the pump. It
also allows us to turn some wells on earlier or later than the others so we can
be better prepared for unusually early spring migrations and to provide more
shorebird habitat in the late spring. The submersible pumps are
electrical--operating at lower costs. We currently have nine submersible
pumps. They are located at Harvard, Johnson, Clark, Funk, Mallard Haven,
Eckhardt, Massie, Smith and Cottonwood WPAs.
In cooperation with Ducks Unlimited, the Rainwater Basin Joint Venture,
and the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, a large contract was awarded to
bury PVC pipe on numerous WPAs and WMAs.
This project was completed in December of 2003. A total of 14,325 feet or
nearly 3 miles of buried PVC was installed on 12 sites. Ducks Unlimited, Inc. handled all phases of
the project including design, contracting, and on- site inspection. Prior to this project, water was delivered
from the well to the wetland via open ditches--causing much of the water to
soak away before reaching the wetland.
When pumping is done, which areas to pump are determined by a number of factors.
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Prescribed burning is used to remove old vegetative growth, release nutrients back to the soil, decrease woody and other invasive and undesirable plant species, increase warm season grasses and forbs, and reduce the amount of organic matter (litter) on the soil surface.