Platte River runs dry again

The last time the Platte River dried up was in 2012. Similar to then, the river has once again dried up from drought.
Published: Sep. 6, 2022 at 7:36 PM CDT|Updated: Sep. 7, 2022 at 11:09 AM CDT
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GRAND ISLAND, Neb. (KSNB) - Driving down Highway 281, one may notice there’s not a single drop of water in the Platte River. Local hydrologists say there’s nothing to be concerned about, as this is something that happens more often than you think.

The last time the Platte River dried up was in 2012. Similar to then, the issue was very drought-driven.

Carrie Roberts, a hydrologist and the director of conservation research for the Crane Trust said, there’s a combination of reasons why the river has dried up this time around. Not only are Nebraskans dealing with a drought, but other places like Colorado and Wyoming are experiencing a lack of precipitation as well. Roberts said that the Platte River water is sourced from runoff of the Rocky Mountains, and this past winter, the Rockies had a less than usual amount of snowfall.

Roberts also noted another reason for a dried up Platte River is because of the many competing uses for its water. From recreational, wildlife, irrigation and municipalities — there’s several sources that pull from the water source.

Hydrologist Brandi Flyr with the Central Platte Natural Resource District also cited the lack of precipitation and the reliance on the Platte.

“We’re a heavy agriculture area,” Flyr said. “Groundwater irrigation really carries a load for us, and when those wells turn on and it’s this dry, they don’t turn off.”

Many of the other rivers in the state, such as the Elkhorn and Loup Rivers, don’t experience major decreases in water levels as frequently, but it’s not uncommon for rivers like the Platte to go dry considering it serves so many purposes.

Flyr said the Platte dried up for several years in the early to mid-2000s. This dry stretch was concerning for surrounding communities and the ecosystem that thrives off the river, but the lack of water in the river right now doesn’t pose any threats.

“Once irrigation shuts off, there should be some rebound,” she noted. “In years like this, where there’s been so much, it’s going to take longer. What we really just need more than anything else is a good rain.”

Flyr said, hopefully with more precipitation to come this fall, the water will start to return to the Platte River beds in central Nebraska toward the end of the season.