31 July 2017

Lake and Wetland Improvements Continue in Cherry County Watershed

Management to improve the natural conditions of lakes and wetlands in a Cherry County watershed continue.

There has been a request by Sandhills Task Force spokesperson Shelly Kelly for improvements at Vrender Swamp in central Cherry county, at the southern edge of the Valentine Lake district. She officially asked Cherry County commissioners for approval to install an additional 36” culvert – adjacent to a present similar culvert – as well as a concrete box to control water flow and to place fish screens at each culvert. These constructs would be placed at the county road at the southern edge of Vrenders Marsh (a.k.a. Vrender Swamp), according to details present commissioners meeting on July 25th at Valentine. The fish-screens are solar-powered and cycle on a timed schedule to remove accumulated debris to ensure an uninhibited water flow. This equipment would be built by a son of the land owner, according to Kelly. Having them along the county road would improve their reliability as they could be more easily monitored at a readily accessible location. Any expenses associated with the project would be paid by sponsors.

The proposal was positively received by the commissioners, and notably by Jim Van Winkle (a former representative of the Sandhills Task Force), though a decision was tabled until there could be a determination to ensure the county road right-of-way alignment as notably voiced by commissioner Tanya Storer. The three commissioners agreed that that landowners would need to be timely informed of roadway construction activities, and that any work be done in a manner that would not inhibit travel necessary for area ranchers, especially if they need to transport cattle to the livestock market.

“The objective of this project is to impede upstream movement of invasive common carp and ultimately restore the high-quality ecosystem inherent to Vrenders Marsh and the associated wetland,” according to information presented at the meeting. There would be 450 acres of “permanent lake and seasonal wetlands” restored with the removal of carp which would be expected to result in “high quality habitats for waterfowl, shorebirds and desirable game fishes.”

The original plan, for which a permit was received from the Army Corps of Engineers, would have placed a culvert northward in the meadow, and which would have required the construction of a water control berm. The waters would be treated with rotenone to remove any fish present.
The project would be done on privately owned property.

Other participants in the project include the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

There has been previous work done to improve the quality of this watershed for game fish and migratory birds following the placement of two fish barriers just eastward of the Rat and Beaver Lakes complex. Both lakes were treated with rotenone to remove unwanted fish on September 3, 2014, according to Zac Brashears, a fisheries biologist employee of the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

Following the treatment, yellow perch, bluegill, largemouth bass, black crappie and redear were released to reestablish the fishery, he said via email. In addition, “the lake has rebounded quickly with both emergent and submergent vegetation making it a great place to view shorebird species and waterfowl including trumpeter swans.”

The project summary submitted to the county commissioners also stated that “high-quality habitat” would be restored at Vrender Swamp following completion of this project. Waterfowl were notably indicated as beneficiaries.

“We are currently in the stages of documenting how these systems change and what added benefits are created once common carp are removed,” Brashears said.

The Cherry County Commissioners voted 2 to 1 to deny the application to install a second culvert beneath the county road so the status of this project is uncertain.