A consortium of natural resource districts and the Nebraska Game and Parks have received approval to protect water levels in the Niobrara River in order to maintain habitat for the fish community.

Jeff Fassett, director of the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources, on Oct. 19 signed an order granting application A-19406 to appropriate water for the purpose of instream flows on the Niobrara River.

The instream flow permit was granted to the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, the Upper Niobrara White NRD, the Middle Niobrara NRD, the Lower Niobrara NRD, the Upper Loup NRD and the Upper Elkhorn NRD for flows on the Niobrara River between Spencer Dam and the confluence with the Missouri River.

Appropriation A-19406 was approved for seasonally adjusted flow amounts to coincide with the different life cycle stage needs of the fishery, including overwintering, spawning, rearing and growth. The flows also will meet habitat needs for whooping crane migration in spring and fall, and piping plover and least tern nesting in spring and summer.

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Instream flow permits are granted only for unappropriated water and are subject to the same “first in time, first in right” requirements that are binding on all surface water appropriations. Only the NRDs and Game and Parks can hold instream flow permits, and this water right will have a Dec. 4, 2015, priority date. 

The instream flows are part of the efforts by the Niobrara River Basin Alliance NRDs and Game and Parks, along with the Nebraska Public Power District, to ensure the long-term sustainability of water in the Niobrara River basin.

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