Explore this Watershed
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Rafael Pease knows the importance of a watershed. Originally from France, he divides his time between the Rocky Mountains of Colorado and the Andes of Chile. As a splitboard mountaineer, environmentalist, and filmmaker he explores the connections of humans to mountain environments. His passion for snow gives him first-hand knowledge of the effects of climate change on watersheds. Travel with him into the Colorado high country, learn why he cares about watersheds, and experience the thrill of shredding powder that eventually melts and flows all the way to the Gulf of Mexico.
The Weight of Water
When snow falls on Berthoud Summit in Colorado, people down the watershed benefit from the snowmelt that makes its way to their communities in the spring and summer months. But how much water is in snow? And how is it measured? Meet two snow scientists responsible for monitoring snowpack in the Rocky Mountains and gathering data used to predict water supplies in the affected river basins each season.
Water is used in every step of the beer making process, but only a small amount makes it into the bottle. The impact of the craft beer industry on water resources is an industry-wide concern. Meet the brewmeisters of Baere Brewing Company in Denver, Colorado, and the founder of the Rare Fish Rare Beer Project as they team up to give back to the resource and raise awareness about the endangered fish species that inhabit their watershed.
Water in the American West is a scarce resource allocated for multiple uses from urban drinking water to agriculture to habitats for endangered species. Journey east from high above the North Platte River across the region of Wyoming once called the Great American Desert, and see how the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation captures and releases water to irrigate millions of acres of farmland throughout one watershed.
Meet the ditch riders of western Nebraska. They have the little known, but vitally important job of monitoring canals in an area of the United States so arid the locals refer to the river there as the American Nile. Ditch riders hold the keys to valves that turn on and off the water that irrigates 60,000 acres of cropland. They also make certain that enough water is conserved and released to maintain habitat for endangered species downstream.
Like the snows in the high country of Colorado, groundwater is critical to the health of watersheds everywhere. Travel to a remote region of western Nebraska where rainfall is rare but wetlands abound as a result of the aquifer rising up from beneath.
It’s time to take a field trip! Join middle-school students from Mullen, Nebraska, as they get their hands dirty and feet wet on the banks of the Middle Loup River. U.S.G.S scientists teach the students about groundwater and the importance of collecting stream data for communities downstream.
The Switzer family has been ranching atop the Ogallala Aquifer in the Sandhills of Nebraska for generations. As their family grows, their water needs grow. See how they have adapted to balance family and land for a sustainable future.
Legacy of Water
In an age of climate change, upstream and downstream users in the Platte River Watershed are joining forces. Colorado State University research scientists and Great Plains agricultural producers are working together to innovate more efficient methods of using water to grow crops.
Forty percent of the global food supply is grown on irrigated cropland. In Nebraska’s Platte River Valley, Roric Paulman’s family has been raising crops on arid land for generations. As the climate turns hotter and drier, farmers like Roric are exploring ways of reducing their water use while keeping their yields high.
The Platte River with its wide, shallow river channels and wet meadows is ideal habitat for migrating cranes. Join writer Doreen Pfost for the annual crane migration when more than a half million Sandhill cranes and a small population of the endangered whooping crane descend on the Platte River to fuel up before continuing north to their breeding grounds in Canada.
Fly Me a River
Audubon’s Rowe Sanctuary protects a crucial habitat for millions of waterfowl and a half million Sandhill cranes migrating through the Central Platte Valley each spring. Habitat manager Cody Wagner discusses ways of restoring and protecting those grasslands and wetlands.
Nebraska is said to have more river miles than any other state in the US. Brent Meyer of the Nebraska Riparian Management Task Force coordinates with other state agencies to protect water flows by managing invasive species that restrict water flow and increase flooding.
They say great water makes great pizza. And Omaha's Krystin Marsh puts that to the test. While she fondly remembers summer days wading in the shallow Platte River and playing on the sandbars, today her business relies on pure, clean water to make the best New York-style pizza in Omaha.
After The Flood
In March 2019, Nebraskans bore witness to the worst flooding in generations. Survey the damage with hydrologists from the National Weather Service and the USGS’s Nebraska Water Science Center. And follow the center’s technicians through the seasons, as they collect and distribute long-term water flow data that can be used by local, state, and federal agencies to predict the next flood event and help save lives.
Historic flooding on the Platte River in 2019 devastated towns, parks, and wildlife management areas. Join cleanup efforts at Fremont Lakes Recreation Area and ride an airboat through Schilling Wildlife Management where floodwaters have created a new confluence with the Missouri River.
About This Series
Everyone lives in a watershed. Do you know yours? "Watershed" is an immersive video series designed to show viewers the beauty and diversity of American watersheds through the stories of people connected across the 500+ miles of the Platte River watershed. Fed by Rocky Mountain snowpack and High Plains Aquifer, the Platte River watershed stretches across three states to join the Missouri River and flow on to the Gulf of Mexico.