NEBRASKAland June 2016

NEBRASKAland Magazine is dedicated to outstanding photography and informative writing with an engaging mix of articles and photos highlighting Nebraska’s outdoor activities, parklands, wildlife, history and people.

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50 NEBRASKAland • JUNE 2016 any of us, especially those of us who fish, have stood on a lakeshore, dock or boat and wondered what is going on beneath the water. What does the bottom look like? Where are the fish? What are they doing? Scant few Nebraskans have taken scuba lessons, strapped a tank of air on their back and jumped in to find out. Even if they had, only a few of the state's waters are clear enough that they could actually find the answers to those questions. Which is why most Nebraskans who take scuba lessons do so prior to a vacation in the tropics, where ocean visibility can top 100 feet. The closest you will find to that in Nebraska, according to dive shop owners, is under the ice at a sandpit lake in the dead of winter. But those few waters with enough visibility for an enjoyable dive, including sandpit lakes along Interstate 80 and Lake McConaughy, are enough to keep some dedicated divers happy, whether they're wanting to simply keep their skills sharp for their tropical dives, swim with the fish or grab their spear gun and fill a stringer with them. In most Nebraska waters, especially in eastern Nebraska, visibility is so poor you are lucky to see your hand at arm's length. The problem is most are reservoirs fed by rivers and streams, which are fed by overland runoff that carries fine silt and clay that clouds the water and rarely, if ever, clears. "It's no fun diving in an ink bottle," said Don Stanger of Underwater World Scuba Center in Omaha. "You want some clarity." Wind- and boat-driven waves lap the shorelines and stir more fine particles of soil into the water. Visibility is also limited by algae, small plants that live adrift in the water, or are set adrift from wave action that breaks them free from the plants, rocks or lakebottom on which they grow. Algae, the base of the aquatic food web, is found in all waters, but just like plants growing on the land, it grows most rapidly in the heat of summer. These things considered, divers will tell you the keys to finding clear water in Nebraska are to go early or late in the year, when algae is less abundant, and go west, where the soils contain little to no clay. Dive Nebraska Scuba Diving in an Unlikely State Story and photos by Eric Fowler Sunlight streams through the surface of Pelican Lake on the Valentine National Wildlife Refuge near Valentine, illuminating coontail covered with filamentous algae.

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