By Jan Rahn
Those planning to spend Memorial Day weekend at Lake McConaughy will have a surprise awaiting them if they plan to camp on the beach—because hardly any exists.
The lake is at its highest in a long time, encircling and lapping at the “Leave Only Your Footprints Please” sign along the north side of Kingsley Dam.
On May 2, Lake Mac was at an elevation of 3259 feet above mean sea level.
At that time, inflows were around 5,000 cubic feet per second which was about three times higher than normal for that time of year.
Permission was given the Central Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation District to temporarily fill it to an elevation of 3267 if necessary to moderate flooding downstream.
The normal maximum elevation of Lake Mac is 3265.
According to Cory Steinke, civil engineer, the lake is close to full, and given the projected inflows over the next two months, it may be difficult to bring the lake’s level back down to an elevation of 3260 by Oct 1, a level required by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
“People along the Platte River should be prepared for high flows throughout the summer,” said Steinke.
He reports that snow pack in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado and Wyoming is far above average. The runoff from the snow feeds the North andSouth Platte rivers.
The upper North Platte basin is 171 percent of normal; the lower North Platte basin is 136 percent, and 149 percent in the South Platte basin.
“Everything points to a lot of water coming down the river all summer long,” said Steinke.
He said the recent projected total runoff by the Bureau of Reclamation was about 1.2 million acre-feet, but once the bureau released its May runoff the first week of May it could be higher.
Seven reservoirs monitored by the bureau which can hold about 2.7 million acre-feet of water were at about 75 percent the first week of May.
There is still a lot of snow left in the mountains that is yet to melt. Steinke said he had spoken with someone in Colorado who described the snowpack as being of “epic” proportions.
Steinke predicts the flows in the South Platte River, which joins with the North Platte River above Central’s diversion dam at North Platte, will rise significantly as snowmelt increases.
At the end of April, Lake Mac was 13 feet higher than it was a year ago—and a year ago it was higher than it had been in quite some time, filling Martin Bay the summer of 2010 after being drought-stricken since 2002.
Although the lake’s increased depth has diminished the white sandy beaches so popular to campers and picnickers, boaters can now easily access the lake from several ramps that were far from the water during the drought years.
In April 2006, Lake McConaughy was at 40 percent capacity, the highest in three years, and has been regaining water volume since.
Lake Mac has 1.7 million acre feet capacity. It had reached 95.2 percent capacity mid-April.