Partners working hard to deliver $9.25 million aquatic ecosystem restoration at Harlan County Lake


HARLAN COUNTY LAKE, Neb. – It can be difficult to put into numbers the importance Harlan County Lake has on the surrounding communities on and near the Republican River in south-central Nebraska. To say it plays a large role in the lives of these communities is an understatement. Harlan County Lake is a vital source of recreation, water management and flood risk reduction in the region.

However, according to Leigh Mitchell, Continuing Authorities Program manager and project manager with the Kansas City District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, years of shoreline erosion has led to increased sedimentation within the cove.

“[The sedimentation is] smothering habitat … and effectively isolated Methodist Cove from the main lake except during very high lake level periods,” said Mitchell. 

Both the State of Nebraska and the federal government have recognized the importance the lake has on the region and as such, have invested in restoring its aquatic ecosystem. With 75% of funding coming from the federal government, by way of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill, and 25% funding coming from the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission’s Aquatic Habitat Fund, the $9.25 million restoration project is a prime example of federal, state and industry partners working together to restore vital aquatic ecosystems. 

The engineer on the project, Olsson, has been vital to the success of the project thus far. According to Mitchell, Olsson has the technical background and experience designing ecosystem restoration projects and as such, are a valuable partner in the execution of this project. The Kansas City District awarded the construction contract on September 28, 2023, and has been working in close contact with Olsson and the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission to ensure the project proceeds on time, on budget and safely.

The primary objectives of the project are to restore and protect degraded aquatic habitat by removing sediments that have blocked the entrance of the cove, create spawning and overwintering habitat for gamefish and a variety of aquatic organisms and manage invasive vegetation. Since construction began, impacts to fish spawning have been low and the long-term benefits will outweigh any short-term impact.

The project, which is authorized under Section 1135 of the Water Resources Development Act of 1986, has impacted public access to the construction site. However, because Harlan County Lake is such an important source of recreation to the communities in the region, the Olsson and USACE team will pause most construction activities through August to ensure recreators are able to fully enjoy all the recreation opportunities available at the lake.

Expected to be complete in 2025, the ecosystem restoration project will provide multiple benefits to those that rely on Harlan County Lake for various purposes.

“The construction we’re seeing now is the result of years of planning and design efforts by USACE, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission and Olsson,” said Mitchell. “[The project is] large scale, bold and will lead to incredible environmental outcomes and recreational opportunities.”

For more information about the status of the project or public access during construction, contact the Harlan County Lake project office at 308-799-2105.

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