High Republican River flows into Harlan County Lake

High Republican River flows into Harlan County Lake have created some issues for recreation. This photo taken this morning shows why boaters can’t currently drive under the river bridge south of Alma, pictured in the background.

REPUBLICAN CITY — Harlan County Lake has set a new elevation record.

It is continuing to rise because of runoff from flooding rains in the area and upstream in the Republican Basin.

Larry Janicek, operations manager at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers office at Republican City, told the Hub this morning that the lake has reached elevation 1956.1, surpassing the old record of 1955.70 in 1960.

He added that the lake is forecast to reach elevation 1957.4.

Janicek agreed with Lower Republican Natural Resources District Assistant General Manager Scott Dicke that the lake may rise by another 1.5-2 feet by this weekend.

Lake inflows from the Republican River were at 9,000 cubic feet per second this morning. Janicek said they hit a high of 11,300 cfs on Wednesday, which compares with normal inflows this time of year of 200 cfs and the 4,000-5,000 cfs seen during March flooding.

The lake’s volume is approximately 25 percent into the flood pool.

Dicke said the two large Republican Basin reservoirs downstream in Kansas are even further into flood pool — Milford at 81 percent and Lovewell at 67 percent.

“They really won’t let us release water (from Harlan) until Milford drops to 50 percent (of flood pool),” Janicek said, because of concerns on downstream with high flows in the Missouri River.

Another issue causing water to be held in Harlan County Lake is that farmers downstream in the Nebraska and Kansas Bostwick Irrigation districts aren’t taking lake-stored irrigation water because of the wet weather.

High water issues

Janicek said the high water in Harlan County Lake have caused issues for recreation areas and businesses.

On the north side of the lake, the Methodist Cove campground has been closed because electricity has been turned off for lift stations and other services there.

The boat ramp at Hunter Cove was closed Wednesday as were some camping sites. Gremlin Cove’s campground is open, but there “isn’t a beach anymore,” Janicek said.

“There probably will be more ramp closures,” he said, noting that decisions about ramps at Gremlin and Methodist coves are day to day. “It’s getting real limited now.”

The high water also has caused the North Shore Marina and Outcast, a restaurant there, to close.

Dicke said there still is access to the lake from the Alma boat ramp.

Janicek said tractors are being used in some places to get boats into the water. In all places where there jetties no longer are above the water, boat launches can be more affected by lake waves, he added.

“Boaters have to use precautions,” Janicek said, not only for the underwater jetties, but also for floating debris flowing into the lake with the floodwaters.

He said the completion a year ago of a $31 million project to repair Harlan County Dam’s 18 gates and install new controls “has made a big difference in being able to hold back water, which this dam was built to do.”

High river flows

High flows in the Republican River also are a problem.

“There’s a remarkable amount of (river water) at the Orleans gauge,” Dicke said. He noted that the highest river crest there was 14 feet on June 23, 1947, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, and it was at 13.93 feet Wednesday afternoon.

The crest of 10.84 feet at Riverton already had surpassed the record of 9.62 feet, Dicke added.

There is field flooding along the Republican River and also from runoff into tributaries.

“All of the tributaries are at the top of their banks in the entire (Lower Republican) district,” he said, and any additional rainfall will continue to increase Harlan County Lake’s volume and keep soils saturated.

Unless there is no more rain this growing season, Dicke said the amount of water used by LRNRD groundwater irrigators this year could be the lowest since flowmeters started being used throughout the district in 2005.