KEARNEY — The white bass fishing is great at Harlan County Lake and the blue green algae warning has been dropped, but it’s still a bigger challenge than usual to get a boat into a lake that remains at a near record high elevation.
Larry Janicek, operations manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers office north of the dam at Republican City, told the Hub that Methodist Cove Park on the north side of the lake remains closed, and boaters can “launch at your own risk” at the ramps there and at Hunter Cove to the east.
Docks remain in place at Gremlin Cove at the northwest corner of the dam and in Alma, Janicek said, and there still are camping and picnic opportunities at the Gremlin and Hunter sites.
However, there have not been beaches at the lake for more than a month.
Janicek said fishing is possible from the spillway on downstream side of the dam, but it’s more treacherous to do so now.
Rain and records
Following heavy rains in the Republican River Basin in early July, Harlan County Lake reached elevation 1956.1 on July 11, surpassing the old record of 1955.70 in 1960s.
It topped out at elevation 1958.17 on July 23 and, according to the federal Bureau of Reclamation, was at 1956.7 this morning, with a volume of 478,400 acre-feet.
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The Bureau of Reclamation’s monthly report shows that the elevation was 1957.68 and the volume was 495,240 a-f at the end of July, which compares to 228,139 a-f on July 31, 2018, and average end of July volume of nearly 264,000 a-f
That report also says Harlan County Lake was at 184 percent of average and 158 percent of full on July 31, 2019.
Since then, releases averaging 1,100 cubic feet per second have been made for flood control and downstream irrigation districts, Janicek said, except for two days during the search for two drowning victims at Guide Rock.
Inflows have averaged a normal 200 cfs recently and the Republican River at Orleans was moving at 170 cfs this morning, he said.
In the days after the July rains, inflows had reached a high of 11,300 cfs.
“We’re dropping consistently a tenth of a foot a day,” Janicek said this morning, while acknowledging there is a long way to go to approach late summer normal lake levels.
Another positive is that the blue green algae warning issued for swimming areas at the lake has been dropped. “We’re clear now,” Janicek said, explaining that two weeks of test results under the warning standard were required “and we passed those.”
When asked if weather and water conditions have made a difference in Harlan County Lake use, he replied, “Oh, it has affected it tremendously since Methodist has been closed, with the high water and blue green algae a few weeks ago.”
Janicek acknowledged that conditions continue to make it more difficult to get boats into the lake, but people who make the extra effort are being rewarded with good fishing.
“Yeah, they’ve been catching fish all along. They’ve switched over from walleye to white bass,” he said.
Scott Dicke, assistant general manager at the Alma-based Lower Republican Natural Resources District, agreed. “The white bass fishing is really, really good,” he said.
Dicke also has noticed the lake’s recent decline. “You can see more of a shoreline, but it has a long way to go,” he said.
Meanwhile, groundwater users within the LRNRD — all of Furnas, Harlan and Franklin counties, and parts of Webster and Nuckolls counties — are irrigating because there has been little rainfall in the basin since early July.
Dicke still expects overall irrigation use during the growing season to be less than the 6.5 inches-7.5 inches per acre average seen the past few years.
He also expects to see an increase in spring-to-spring groundwater levels when the 2020 measurements are made, which would follow an average 1-foot rise across the LRNRD from spring 2018 to spring 2019.
“For the first time in many years, we’ve heard a few gripes about too much water,” he joked. “But people are reluctant to make that gripe.”