Water loss through porous canals and ditches has always been an issue for irrigators, so districts and farmers alike have lined or sealed the waterways to reduce loss. “We can’t afford to lose a whole lot of water out of the canal,” Busch said, but “sealing a canal is a catch-22 because that water that comes out of them canals does replenish our groundwater system.”

In the early 1900s in the arid West, C. W. McConaughy recognized the discontinuity between high river flows in the spring and low flows in the middle of summer, when farmers needed water most. McConaughy, a grain merchant and mayor of Holdrege, Nebraska, developed the idea of supplemental irrigation.

Follow a snowflake from the Colorado Rockies through Wyoming dams and reservoirs to fields in the Nebraska panhandle.

A series of bathtubs dot Wyoming’s North Platte River, filling and releasing water for summer irrigation, power generation, and recreation. During western expansion, it became necessary to control the river, building dams and reservoirs that helped to regulate flow between seasons and wet and dry years.

Rushing out of Kortes Dam, fluctuating currents run through the rugged Seminoe Mountains and out into the arid Wyoming plains until the North Platte River’s waters reach Pathfinder Reservoir. With a beautiful landscape surrounding the river, and swift, cold water filled with brown, cutthroat, and rainbow trout, this five and half mile stretch of the North Platte River has earned itself the name, “The Miracle Mile.”

In recent years, the river has formed an S-shaped route a short distance upstream from the measurement weir and has caused the riverbanks near the gauging station to erode, threatening to bypass the weir itself.