Green Guide

Nebraska hydrologist to retire after 40 years

Posted 1:01 a.m. Sunday

— For more than 40 years, Duane Woodward, hydrologist for the Central Platte Natural Resources District, has not only seen some monumental changes in the way farmers use the state's groundwater and surface water resources, but also played a role in making those changes possible.

After 25 years of employment with the Central Platte NRD and 18 years with the Bureau of Reclamation as an engineering hydrologist, Woodward will retire at the end of this month.

According to the Central Platte NRD, Woodward's professionalism and knowledge have been an invaluable resource to the water resources community of Nebraska and beyond.

"Woodward was instrumental in the development of the Cooperative Hydrology Study (COHYST), a comprehensive suite of computer models that represent the central Platte watershed allowing integrated, dynamic assessment of management alternatives at a regional planning scale," said a statement from the NRD. "With his deep understanding of the hydrology and operations of the Platte River and its associated water supply systems, Woodward provided technical expertise and was a financial manager for the COHYST project."

His research and analysis have been used to develop water management plans for the Central Platte NRD, the Platte Basin, and the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program.

Woodward has served on the Water Advisory Committee for the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program (PRRIP) since it was initiated in 1997.

"Duane is Mr. Water Resources of the Platte Basin," Jerry Kenny, executive director of the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program, told The Grand Island Independent . "The knowledge, skills, and presence that Duane represents are irreplaceable and a huge asset to the community."

Woodward has also been instrumental in establishing numerous water use and evapotranspiration projects for irrigation management. The projects collect real-time water pumping data at a combination of groundwater and surface water locations with additional data at select sites for soil moisture, groundwater level data, weather data and irrigation system pressure.

"Duane is one of the most respected hydrologists in the state," said Lyndon Vogt, CPNRD general manager. "His vast knowledge of water resources, in the Platte Basin and beyond, will be greatly missed by all members of the water resources community."

Woodward is from Harvard and received his degree in agricultural engineering from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

"I wanted to go into something involving agriculture and engineering," he said.

Woodward credited "some really excellent math teachers in high school" who led him to choose a career in engineering.

"One of the things that are nice about agricultural engineering is you can get into a lot of different things, such as machinery design, grain storage and irrigation," he said. "Growing up in the farm area over there (Harvard), I worked for a guy in the summer and we did a lot of irrigated ag."

While his parents were not farmers, Woodward's grandparents influenced his choice of agricultural engineering as he spent time as a boy on their farm.

As soon as he received his degree from UNL, he took a job with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation in Grand Island in 1974.

"The bureau has a training program that could let you go into design work or hydrology," Woodward said. "I chose hydrology. At that time, the bureau was working on the Mid-State Project that covered the water supply in the Central Platte area."

He worked for the bureau until 1992, when he joined the Central Platte NRD.

When he worked with the bureau, Woodward worked closely with Ron Bishop, who was the Central Platte NRD manager for more than 40 years, and other CPNRD officials.

At the time he took the job as a hydrologist for the NRD, he had worked in Casper, Wyo., for the bureau for a couple of years.

"It was a good opportunity to move back to Nebraska," Woodward said.

There were a number of important changes to the way groundwater was used and appropriated during the first decade of his tenure at the Central Platte NRD.

"There was a number of changes here in 2004 when we made everything fully appropriated," Woodward said.

For irrigators in the Central Platte NRD, that meant that there was a moratorium on drilling any new groundwater wells. An older well first had to be retired before a new well could be drilled, in order to make sure that water levels in the Platte River increased for protected and endangered species and to protect groundwater supplies for future generations.

"We had to do a lot of planning in putting together the integrated management plan for the district that we now have rules and regulations for," he said.

Woodward said the COHYST program was started in 1998 when the Central Platte NRD was working with the states of Nebraska, Wyoming, and Colorado on Platte River water use to maintain and manage adequate flows in the Platte River for endangered species.

"We needed to better understand our surface water projects and our groundwater usage and the integration of those two," he said.

Woodward said the development of the COHYST program was one of the highlights of his career as a hydrologist.

He said working to protect a natural resource so important to Nebraska over the years has been a rewarding aspect of his career.

"I have enjoyed it all, from being able to learn things and take that and decide we need to do things and collect additional data and provide better answers," Woodward said.

That approach changed agriculture in the Central Platte NRD, which has more than 1 million acres of certified irrigation ground. The way farmers use and manage groundwater resources has changed, but at the same time the ability of the land to produce the commodities that they grow has increased.

Another highlight for Woodward is the close working relationships he has developed with Central Platte NRD staff and other officials, along with the farmers who live in the district.

In recent years, the NRD has gotten involved with surface water irrigation in Dawson County.

"It has been good getting to know those managers and boards out there and how to better manage those irrigation systems that date back to 1895," Woodward said.

When asked why he is retiring, he said, "I wanted to do something different."

He and his wife, Sharon, have no particular plans for retirement other than to spend more time with their children and his five grandchildren and do some traveling. He will still be advising the Central Platte NRD when his expertise is needed.

Brandi Flyr has been hired as the district's new hydrologist to begin work in September.

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