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In the Rainwater Basin

The Rainwater Basin is a landscape of shallow playa wetlands scattered amid the flat-to-gently-rolling loess plains of south-central Nebraska. Before European-American settlement, the region contained some 11,000 wetlands ranging in size from less than an acre to over 1,000 acres. The wetlands were fed by runoff from snowmelt, springtime rains, and intense summer storms, and all but the largest usually dried up by late summer. The growth and succession of wetland plant communities were kept in check by herds of grazing bison, elk, and pronghorns, and by periodic fires.

Until the middle of the twentieth century, Rainwater Basin wetlands were integrated and productive elements in diversified farm operations, serving as pastures and sources of hay. Grazing cattle emulated the effects of bison and other wild ungulates, helping to keep wetland vegetation in the early successional state that provided suitable migration habitat for waterfowl, shorebirds, and other wetland-dependent birds.

The Rainwater Basin Joint Venture’s objective since 1992 has been to work with private landowners, agriculture producers, and conservation partners to ensure adequate wetland habitat for the migrating birds that depend on this region.

Why It Matters:

The 160-mile-wide Rainwater Basin region lies at the narrowest point on the Central Flyway migration route. Some 8.6 million geese and ducks stop over here from late February through March on the way to their breeding grounds; shorebirds follow from mid-April through mid-May.

Northbound birds need energy in the form of fat reserves to help complete their migration and to survive and reproduce on their breeding grounds. Tons of waste grain in the Rainwater Basin’s corn fields provide ample calories; however, waterfowl also need nutrients provided by wetland plants; they also need relatively secluded wetlands where they can roost without excessive disturbances. Shorebirds and other birds migrating through the region rely on invertebrates found in healthy wetlands and uplands.




RWBJV Administrative Regions

Conservation on the Ground

Clark Waterfowl Production Area Watershed Restoration

Clark Waterfowl Production Area (WPA) is a 450-acre tract in the heart of the western Rainwater Basin Wetland Complex (RWB). Prior to acquisition by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), fill had been placed in the wetland to improve farming, a pit had been excavated in the wetland for

Removal of Massive Dike Helps Restore Wetland

Some efforts to convert Rainwater Basins to cropland have been extremely ambitions and costly. The attempt to convert this York County basin included construction of an eight-foot-high ring dike around the wettest portion of the wetland so that runoff from the watershed could be pumped into the enclosure to help

The Working Lands Initiative’s Inaugural Project

A restored wetland and 140 acres of former irrigated cropland near Norman, Nebraska represent the initial project in the Working Landscapes initiative, a collaborative effort of the Rainwater Basin Joint Venture partnership. Partners in this project include the Nebraska Environmental Trust, Ducks Unlimited, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Nebraska Game


    • Andy Bishop
    • Coordinator, Rainwater Basin Joint Venture

    • andy_bishop@fws.gov

    • (308) 380-8691

    • Laurel Badura
    • Wildlife Biologist, USFWS Partners for Fish and Wildlife

    • laurel_badura@fws.gov

    • (308) 263-3000

    • Ted LaGrange
    • Public Lands Biologist, Nebraska Game and Parks Commission

    • ted.lagrange@nebraska.gov

    • (402) 471-5436

    • Scott Luedtke
    • Private Lands Biologist, Nebraska Game and Parks Commission

    • scott.luedtke@nebraska.org

    • Cortney Schaefer
    • Habitat Specialist

    • cortney_schaefer@fws.gov

    • 308-385-8618

Science Projects in the Region

Time series photos

The Rainwater Basin Wetland Complex Aerial Image Library

The Rainwater Basin Image Library is a collection of aerial imagery acquired by the Rainwater Basin Joint Venture. All images are sub-meter, 4-band (color/near-infrared).

Targeting the WRE Component of ACEP Using GIS Technology in the Rainwater Basin

In cooperation with the USDA's Farm Service Agency and Natural Resources Conservation Service, the RWBJV developed a model to identify eligible properties with high restoration potential in the Rainwater Basin. View the WRE Ranking Model 2015.

Rainwater Basin Wetland Inundation Decision Support System Guide 2013

The ability to predict wetland inundation helps managers make decisions about hydrologic restoration and pumping of supplemental water.

Regional Updates

Western Basin Recharge Project – A Status Update

The first year is in the books, and the RWBJV partners successfully delivered over 1,900 acre-feet of water into Funk Waterfowl Production Area (WPA).  Surface water deliveries first reached Funk WPA on November 20, 2018 and were completed one month later.  Multiple partners worked with the staff at the U.S.

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Pheasants Forever Adds Delivery Capacity for the Rainwater Basin Wetland Complex

(Posted 9/6/18) The Rainwater Basin Joint Venture Partnership was recently awarded a National Fish and Wildlife Foundation(NFWF) grant to support wetland conservation delivery in the Rainwater Basin. This grant will address several limitations to implementing wetland conservation, including delivery capacity, funding for grazing infrastructure and restoration of tracts enrolled in

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Rainwater Basin Joint Venture and Nebraska Cattlemen Host Grazing Meeting

(Posted 9/6/18) In 2013, the Rainwater Basin Joint Venture Management Board adopted the Working Lands Initiative as one of the strategies to achieve the management objectives outlined in the 2013 Rainwater Basin Joint Venture Implementation Plan. Over the last five years the Rainwater Basin Joint Venture partners have worked together

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