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New trout stream section to improve habitats near Mitchell

Construction is underway on a new section of trout stream for Dry Spotted Tail Creek near Mitchell. This image shows both the straightened channel that delivers water to the North Platte River and work on the meandering stream which will receive the water and improve wetland habitat when the project is finished. (Photo by Matt Loomis)

MITCHELL, Neb. – Anglers, fish and a diverse set of wildlife will soon enjoy a new stretch of trout stream in the western Panhandle.

Construction is underway to add nearly three-quarters of a mile of trout stream on Dry Spotted Tail Creek just west of Mitchell in Scotts Bluff County. The new stream section, which is being constructed to receive water from the creek’s existing straightened channel, will result in new wetland habitat for many aquatic species and terrestrial wildlife on the Platte River Basin Environment’s 1,360-acre Spotted Tail wildland between Mitchell and Morrill.

Mark Porath, Aquatic Habitat Program manager for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, said Dry Spotted Tail Creek is one of the streams in the North Platte Valley that demonstrates how water resources can benefit both agriculture and wildlife habitats.

The creek itself, which has headwaters north of Mitchell, did not necessarily have stream flow all the way to the North Platte River until irrigation infrastructure was developed in the region. Porath said the active irrigation return flows keep the water temperature cool enough to support rainbow trout, a cold-water species, in the heat of the summer.

Unfortunately, the straightened channel has cut into the soil about nine feet, consequently acting as a drain on the surrounding wetland and lowering the water table.

Workers are now creating the new meandering stream channel that was engineered and designed to work with variable water flows across Nebraska’s soils. By balancing erosion and deposition, the new stream will maintain a higher water level and restore the wetland habitat.

After the new channel is formed, complete with rocks and habitat structures, water will be slowly introduced to the new stream to establish wetland vegetation. Next year, workers will construct a permanent structure to divert the bulk of the flow from the old channel to the new stream section. This structure will be unique among Nebraska’s trout waters because the new diversion will allow return flows to continue down the old channel in a flood event, preventing damage to the new section.

Porath said the project is a collaboration between the Commission, Platte River Basin Environments, Trout Unlimited, Ducks Unlimited and Pheasants Forever. Funding for the project is provided by the Nebraska Environmental Trust ($275,000), the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program ($400,000), National Water-Quality Assessment ($100,000), Trout Unlimited ($39,000), Platte River Basin Environments ($35,000) and Pheasants Forever ($2,000).

The construction zone is closed to visitation, but the public may attend an open house at the site Sept. 10 from 6-8 p.m. MDT.

About Justin Haag

Justin Haag has served the Commission as a public information officer in the Panhandle since 2013. His duties include serving as regional editor for NEBRASKAland Magazine. Haag was raised in southwestern Nebraska, where he developed a love for fishing, hunting and other outdoor pursuits. After earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Chadron State College in 1996, he worked four years as an editor and reporter at newspapers in Chadron and McCook. Prior to joining the Commission in 2013, he worked 12 years as a communicator at Chadron State, serving as the institution’s media and public relations coordinator the last five. He and his wife, Cricket, live in Chadron, and have two children.

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