Atlanta, Nebraska may not be a destination for most people, but Atlanta Waterfowl Production Area (WPA) will be a spring migration destination after this year’s extensive wetland and watershed restoration. Atlanta WPA is owned and managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and is one of the largest wetlands in the western Rainwater Basin. The large size of this wetland and juxtaposition in the whooping crane migration corridor makes it a priority for restoration and enhancement. To maximize the reliability of habitat on Atlanta, both on-site wetland and off-site watershed restoration actions were needed. On the WPA there were several hydrological modifications including a one mile ring dike, several concentration pits, and terraces in the adjacent uplands that were reducing overland flow to the wetland. In addition to the on-site modifications, there were 28 irrigation reuse pits located in the watershed that were stopping water from reaching the wetland.
The restoration and enhancement of Atlanta WPA was initiated in 2014 because of a Nebraska Environmental Trust (NET) grant awarded to the Rainwater Basin Joint Venture (RWBJV). Engineers with Ducks Unlimited completed a topographic survey while soil scientists with Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) evaluated the site to determine where culturally accelerated sediment and fill material existed in the wetland. Once this information was obtained, biologists with Ducks Unlimited and the USFWS Rainwater Basin (RWB) Wetland Management District (WMD) developed the restoration plan for the on-site activities. On-site activities included removing 5,000 feet of earthen dike in the wetland footprint, filling four concentration pits located in the wetland footprint, excavating sediment that had been deposited in the wetland footprint, and removing terraces that were impeding water from reaching the wetland. The RWBJV Watershed Restoration Model was used by the USFWS Partners for Fish and Wildlife (PFW) private lands biologists to contact landowners about filling abandoned irrigation reuse pits in the watershed to improve watershed function and maximize ponding frequency and duration in the wetland.
In 2015, the first irrigation reuse pits were filled in the watershed. To date, 12 irrigation reuse pits have been filled in the watershed while three additional irrigation reuse pits being are filled using culturally accelerated sediment that is being removed as part of the on-site restoration activities. Over the last two weeks, a contractor has made significant progress to complete all of the on-site restoration activities. Numerous partners have contributed both financial and technical assistance to this project. These include DU, NRCS, NET, North American Wetlands Conservation Act, RWBJV, USFWS PFW, and USFWS RWB WMD.