Little Blue cleanup starts this summer

TVWMA (Twin Valley Weed Management Area) officials met with local landowners in Deshler last week seeking permission to work along their property as the weed management team eradicates problematic vegetation and cleans up debris along the Little Blue River. TVWMA coordinator Merle Illian presented the plan. “All the work is within the channel,” he told approximately 40 people in attendance Tuesday afternoon at the Thayer County fairground activity center. “We will not go outside the channel. We will not touch areas where erosion may be a problem, and we do not touch debris such as cement or iron. We only remove woody vegetation.”

A couple of years ago, Illian said the TVWMA secured a $568,000 grant from the Nebraska Environmental Trust to continue river improvement projects in the Republican and Little Blue River areas. For two years the co-op has been removing invasive plant species, specifically phragmites, and debris along the Republican River and its tributaries. “Now that we’re finishing up with the Republican, we’ll start on the Little Blue,” he said.

Outlined in the Little Blue NRD’s “Out of the Blue” March pamphlet, benefits of the project include flow enhancement, reduced flood damage, improved riparian forest health, re-establishment of natural landscapes, improved grazing for livestock and long-term control of invasive plants. Phragmites, a particularly invasive plant, had taken hold of the Republican River and basically choked off the flow of water, Illian explained. “We haven’t seen much in the Little Blue, so that’s a bonus.”

Clay County weed superintendent Bruce Rumsey said the TVWMA was formed in 2004 and includes county weed superintendents, Trailblazer RC&D, the Lower Republican and Little Blue NRDs, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Nebraska Game & Parks Commission and private landowners. “Noxious weeds don’t recognize borders, so we banded together and joined our resources,” he said. “With this last grant we’ve focused on the Republican River which was in very bad shape – 98 percent of our effort has been on the Republican.”

Turning to the Little Blue River, Illian said pruning, thinning and removal of fallen trees, controlled burns and sediment removal will be used to maintain the river. “This is a three-phase project,” he said noting logjam and debris removal will begin this summer. “And we don’t just kick the debris down the channel; we pull it out of there, up and away from the river. We take fallen trees put them up on the bank as far as we can, kind of tuck them in among other trees so they won’t float down the river when it’s up.”

Illiam said landowners would be contacted prior to workers entering their property. “We want to walk your area, take suggestions from you, explain what we need to do and work with you,” he said. “For instance, if you have a favorite fishing hole that has a log sitting there, we won’t touch it if you don’t want us to.”

Illian said the Little Blue had some trouble areas but for the most part was in good shape. The upcoming project would be more for maintenance than anything he explained.

Phase two – chemical treatment of noxious and invasive vegetation – will take place in the fall he said. “We use a helicopter to spray, particularly the islands in the river. Vegetation on the islands traps sediment causing the island to become higher. That forces the channel to change and can limit carrying capacity of the river. So we want to take out all the vegetation off the islands. We also use ATVs.” The TVWMA uses Habitat to chemically treat the unwanted weeds and will stay strictly in the channel to avoid any contact with crops, he said.

Phase three is follow-up, he explained. “We come back in the summer of 2014 and address all the chemically treated vegetation. We disc the vegetation, roll it under the soil, then pulverize the ground to open it up.”

Illian said of course the vegetation will come back, especially in dry years, but the management team hopes landowners will help them out by keeping their areas clean of noxious weeds.

For more information about this project visit www.littlebluenrd.org, or contact LBNRD general manager Michael Onnen at 402-364-2145.

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