Not often is Nebraska described as a bathtub, but to Carlee Koehler and the Platte Basin Timelapse team, that is exactly what it is.
Koehler, a production intern at the Platte Basin Timelapse in Lincoln, produces stories about wildlife and creates timelapses throughout the drainage area known as the watershed.
Having grown up raising ducks, goats and horses, Koehler said her childhood helped her to understand the environment “and maybe mature much quicker than other students.”
Using this love of hers, Koehler decided to study journalism, fisheries and wildlife with a minor in biology where she hopes to close the gap between the older and younger, college-age generations. She talked of college students not wanting to read long scientific articles and preferring a picture or visual.
Her role with the Platte Basin Timelapse has been “eye opening.” Upon beginning her time there, she became well versed in understanding the watershed, the bathtub of water from surrounding states.
Continual flooding in this watershed can have huge impacts on the landscape surrounding rivers. Rivers can reroute on their own and completely destroy anything that’s in its path. Changes in land are assumed to take large amounts of time, but sometimes that simply isn’t the case.
The amount of change and how fast it can happen is especially troubling, Koehler said.
“Sometimes you think a landscape changes over thousands of years, but actually, it could be within weeks,” she said. “The sandbars come way up, and then they’re gone and, everything’s just constantly flexing. Everything is so delicately balanced, and it changes with even a little extra rainstorm. The whole watershed looks different.”
Koehler described the landscape as a “breathing being” that swells and then shrinks away. With the swell comes more water, and the water recedes as it goes back again.
But this isn’t the only unique aspect of the Platte Basin Timelapse project.
“There’s nothing like this project in the world,” she said. “And I honestly think it’s because we’re Midwesterners that we know how to work together and know how to be civil … The people really truly do make a difference in how we can rally together.”
With the flood waters came requests from many to explain if this disaster could have been predicted. Koehler said they could see the chain reaction while it was happening from Wyoming on down to Ashland, Nebraska.
The Platte Basin Timelapse team has more than 50 cameras throughout the 90,000-square mile basin, ranging from watching an expansive area all at once to focusing on a single plant. This allows for different forms of depth in their center of attention. On the large scale, they can see the water rising in rivers as it comes from the mountains.
With its large scale focus, she said they can see the flood isn’t over and the waters are starting to come up again from all of the snowpack in Colorado.
“When people say, ‘Well the flooding was bad, but at least it’s going down now,’” she said. “I feel like I have the responsibility of saying it’s not done. I’m sorry.”
With the snowmelt just now coming down, water levels might not be going down as quickly as before.