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The North Platte National Wildlife Refuge (Refuge) is located 8 miles northeast of Scottsbluff, in Nebraska's Panhandle. It was established by Executive Order in 1916, and was managed by the Bureau of Reclamation (BR) until 1986, when primary jurisdiction was granted to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service). The 2,909 acre Refuge includes three reservoirs: 1) Lake Alice, 2) Winters Creek Lake, and 3) Lake Minitare (Figure 1). Water levels in all three reservoirs are managed by BR for irrigation and Lake Minitare is managed as a State Recreation Area under a lease agreement with the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. The primary purpose of the Refuge is to provide sanctuary for migratory birds, but habitat for migrating bald eagles, waterfowl production, and compatible recreation are important management goals (USFWS, 2001). Twenty bald eagles and over 200,000 waterfowl concentrate on the Refuge during migration and over 200 species of birds have been observed on the Refuge.
Irrigation supply water from the North Platte River is the primary source of water for all three Refuge reservoirs, which are interconnected by surface water. Lake Alice receives water from the Interstate and Highline canal, and discharges to the Supply canal and Hersche drain. Winters Creek Lake is fed by the Supply canal and also discharges to the Supply canal, with the inflow and outflow separated by approximately 200 meters. Lake Minitare receives water primarily from the Supply canal with secondary input from the Highline canal and discharges into the Lowline canal and Alliance drain. Land use in the drainage is primarily agricultural; with corn, soybeans, and sugar beet production the predominant row crops. In addition, alfalfa production and grazing areas support cattle ranching within the Refuge’s watershed.