Nebraska has one of the best supplies of surface and underground water in the nation. All of its rivers and streams eventually drain into the Missouri River, flowing in an easterly and southeasterly direction. The state’s principal river, the Platte, is formed by the confluence of the North Platte and South Platte rivers, both of which rise in the Rocky Mountains. The Platte River flows through central Nebraska to the Missouri River. The Sand Hills are drained by the Niobrara, Elkhorn, and Loup rivers. The Republican and Big Blue rivers drain the southern part of the state, flowing south into Kansas, where they enter the Kansas River. While there are no large natural lakes in the state, hundreds of small natural lakes are found in the Sand Hills.
Nebraska depends on irrigation for a substantial part of its crop production, and 34 percent of all cropland is irrigated. Much of the irrigated land is in the broad valley of the Platte. Because of the abundant surface and underground water supplies, the valley has been given the nickname “Irrigation Way.”
One of the first United States Bureau of Reclamation projects, the North Platte Project, was built in Nebraska and Wyoming. Water impounded and stored in Wyoming is used for irrigation in southeastern Wyoming and Scotts Bluff and Morrill counties in Nebraska.
A large privately financed irrigation project, the Tri-County Project, uses Platte River water. The state’s largest dam, Kingsley Dam, and largest reservoir, Lake McConaughy, are parts of the Tri-County Project.
Three other reservoirs, Lewis and Clark Lake, Harlan County Lake, and Swanson Lake, each have an immense storage capacity. Other major reservoirs in Nebraska include Harry Strunk Lake, Hugh Butler Lake, Enders Reservoir, and Sherman Reservoir.
Nearly four-fifths of the irrigated land in Nebraska, however, uses groundwater pumped from deep wells, rather than surface water supplied from reservoirs. Nebraska possesses enormous groundwater reserves. The Ogallala aquifer, an underground-water bearing layer stretching south as far as Texas, lies under much of central Nebraska. Well irrigation first became important in the late 1930s, but the number of wells increased sharply in the 1950s and 1970s. In the mid-1990s there were more than 60,000 irrigation wells in the state, with the greatest concentrations found in the central and lower Platte valleys, in south central and southwestern Nebraska, and in much of the north central part of the state. The growth in irrigation has put pressure on groundwater supplies and has led to declining water tables in some areas, particularly in the Big Blue River basin and in the southwestern counties. When water tables decline quite rapidly, various restrictions may be put into place by natural resource districts to limit the rate of pumping for irrigation. "Nebraska" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia
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