31 March 2014

Request to Cease Pumping Water into Carter Lake

This is an email sent March 25th to Omaha officials Robert Stubbe, Director of Public Works, Jean Stothert, mayor, and Pete Festersen, chairman of the Omaha city council.

This is a request that the Department of Public Works immediately stop pumping supplemental water into Carter Lake. Conditions during the past few days north of Bird Isle in the southeast portion of the lake have meant the occurrence of some rare gulls, and extensive numbers of other waterfowl. The water here is shallow enough that the gulls, especially, can stand in the water and roost overnight. This is the first known occurrence of this situation.

The rare gulls observed have been a California Gull (3/10/2014) and four Thayers Gulls (3/23/2014). Both of these species have never been recorded in spring at this lake (based on an evaluation of nearly 11,000 records dating back at least 115 years) and only noted one other time, in November 1993. A rare Iceland Gull was reported on March 24th as additional bird watchers visited the lake, and also took pictures of this and other species. In addition several Herring Gull, numerous Ring-billed gulls have utilized this roost (one observer called the flock a "sea of gulls"). These and other birds are being enjoyed by the local birding community, with the potential of other rare/unusual species as birders have been visiting this locale on a more regular basis in recent weeks, due to the swans and other interesting species.

Any further pumping will inundate this area to an extent that it will no longer be useful as a roost. The gulls will effectively be evicted from this roost by the actions of Public Works.

There are particular points to make in this regards:

1). Why is Public Works spending thousands to add water, which is basically a subsidy to the City of Carter Lake and its lakeside residents. The City of Omaha owns ca. 70 % of the lake surface area, so it should control the water in a manner it deems most suitable. Having lower water levels is no detriment to the setting at Levi Carter Park.
2). Adding water is also been done to improve boating conditions. Why are boaters apparently being given precedence over birders?
3). Carter Lake was established as the Sandy Griswold Bird Sanctuary in 1928-29 through a resolution by the Omaha City council. Yet this designation is being ignored.
4). Any agreement between the City of Omaha and City of Carter Lake, according to my reading, is an agreement to share pumping costs, not an obligation to pump water at specific times. This agreement is about 25 years old, and should be revisited and potentially revised to reflect current conditions.
5). Any spending of public money should be open to comments of the Omaha citizens, including an evaluation of pumping times and extent.

Recently posted on my wildbird blog was an analysis of the economic impact of the presence of Trumpeter Swans at Carter Lake during January and February. The same valuation can be placed upon the waterfowl currently present.

After an email inquiry as to the reason no response had been received, this was the reply received from Mr. Stubbe on 27 March.

"There is no reason to change the pumping to retain the gull flats because the gulls were observed weeks after the pump started, therefore there arrival is not related to pumping."

This is my reply, sent March 28th.

The gulls continuing to occur as they do at the flats is directly related to the extent of water being pumped into the lake at the current time. Once the water is too deep for them to comfortably stand, due to ongoing pumping, they will not be able to use the flats. So the city pumping will effectively evict them, as previously stated.

I have never said their arrival is related to the pumping. Their continuing to occur is...