COLUMBUS, Neb.- A project built during the Great Depression continues to provide power to Nebraskans today.
Recently, we visited the Columbus Powerhouse, which is one of Nebraska's largest hydroelectric generating plants, and a central focus of the Loup River Public Power District system. "Loup Power started back in the early 1930's," Hydro Superintendent for Loup Power Brad Morton said. "The district diverts water off the Loup River near Genoa, and back at the turn of the century there were many people looking to use that water and harness that energy," Morton said. During the Depression, people were out of work, and funding became available to build a power system through the New Deal Public Works Administration. "Loup Power started about the same time in 1933, and the construction project began," Morton said.
Loup Power has two powerhouses, and the canal system runs about 35 miles in length. "We have a dredging operation that is part of our operation. Keep in mind our water comes from the Loup River which brings water from the Sandhills, so we have a lot of sand coming into the system," Morton said. Once the water is in the system, it flows from the Genoa area, through the powerhouse located just north of Monroe, to storage reservoirs just north of Columbus. At the Columbus powerhouse, there is in intake structure at the top of the hill. The water runs about 120 feet down from the intake structure, through the powerhouse turbines, to the stream below. "We have water passing through some big tubes called penstocks. Each of those can carry 800,000 gallons of water a minute. The water spins our turbines, those are hooked to a generator, and our generators output the power," Morton said.
Seeing the system working in person is impressive. The powerhouse itself is on the national register of historic places, and the construction of the powerhouse and the canal system provided jobs during the Depression. Of course, construction workers in the 1930's did not have the tools that workers have today. "There are cases where farmers came and worked on the project with a team of horses," Morton said. "We did have a drag line that worked on the project, and at the time it was operating, it was one of the largest in the world."
The hydroelectric project also features five public parks on Loup Power District property that provide recreational opportunities from fishing to camping.