A couple of weeks ago I talked to an Associated Press reporter about the drought, low water levels in the Platte River and what that meant for our fish. The story got exposure on radio, TV and in newspapers everywhere. Since that story was published, I have heard from acquaintances all over the country that have heard my name mentioned on the news.
As a result of the story, I have talked to or swapped e-mails with reporters from Spain, Denmark, France and China. All of them have been interested in the drought and some of them even made trips to Nebraska just to see the Platte River and write a story.
I had talked several times to a Chinese gentleman working for China Central Television, which has a bureau in Chicago. Yudi Zhang wanted to come to Nebraska to see the drought conditions and the Platte River. I met him and two of his colleagues — a correspondent, Li Hui, and a gentleman who ran the camera — one afternoon at Ak-Sar-Ben Aquarium south of Gretna.
From the parking lot, we ventured just down the road and pulled off right on the bank of the Platte. We spent a half an hour looking at the river and shooting video. Li asked a lot of questions about water quality. I believe they were having a hard time comprehending where the water in the Platte River came from and how it could just all disappear. I explained to them how Nebraska’s climate changes dramatically from Southeast Nebraska, where we average nearly 30 inches of precipitation annually, to far northwestern Nebraska, where the annual average precipitation is closer to 15 inches per year.
However, what they really were hoping to see were carcasses of dead fish. I explained to them that the low water conditions had been going on for several weeks. There were not many carcasses to see because many of the fish that died perished weeks ago and had decayed or been cleaned up by scavengers. Aand in stretches where there was water, the fish had migrated to holes or even down into the Missouri River.
But they wanted footage of dead fish, so we went downstream and walked out onto the Lied Platte River Bridge to see if we could find some.
They were able to get some good shots of the river from the bridge. I pointed out a softshell turtle in front of a log jam. There were raccoon tracks on all the sandbars, and I told them that those bandits had cleaned up all the fish that might have died. About two-thirds of the way across the bridge, Li excitedly motioned to her colleagues and pointed to a carcass of a dead fish below the bridge. Success!
Some might say that all this talk about the Platte and the low water levels and dead fish is nothing but bad publicity. That might be true, but it is our reality. I have been able to share with all of the reporters I have talked to, some of whom have never set foot in Nebraska, what my home state is like.
My Chinese friends commented several times about how hot it was. I just shrugged my shoulders; it is hot every summer, maybe more so this summer, but hot nonetheless. Oh, and it gets darned cold in the winter too. Had my Chinese friends and I been standing on the banks of the Platte a year ago, in the place where we were standing, we would have been in the river. We have lived through dry cycles and wet cycles before, and we will again. Yes, the dry weather and lack of water has a negative impact on our fish and wildlife resources, and I do not like it. When the water comes back, and it will, the fish will be back, too.
Our governor was just on a trade and goodwill trip to China. I am glad I got to do my part for international relations by staying here at home and having some Chinese people come visit, even if it was just for a couple of hours. I hope they enjoyed it because I always love to brag up my home state. There is no place like Nebraska.
Daryl Bauer is the outreach program manager in the Game and Parks' Fisheries Division. Contact him at 402-471-5008 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his blog, Barbs and Backlashes, at OutdoorNebraska.org.