Merritt Reservoir in Nebraska

Nebraska's Sandhills - Merritt Reservoir

Back in the fall of 2012, we headed out to Valentine, NE to visit my husband’s family before the weather started to turn colder. My father-in-law mentioned that Merritt Dam had really been seeing the effects of the drought that summer so we decided to take the 30 minute drive to the lake to check it out first hand.

My husband grew up on a ranch near Valentine about 15 minutes from the lake back in the 70’s and 80’s. He said he and his dad or granddad used to fish on Merritt Reservoir every summer, several times each year. In all those 18 years, plus all the years he’s returned home since, he’s never seen the lake so dry.

In normal years, the water recedes somewhat by the end of summer, since it is used for irrigation through an aquaduct system.

Trees at Merritt ReservoirBut as we all know, the summer of 2012 was far from a “normal” year. When we arrived at the lake, I was first of all impressed by how beautiful the white sandy beaches were! The lake was very blue looking and it seemed like we stumbled upon an ocean in the middle of the United States!

The second thing I noticed as soon as I stepped out of the car to take some pictures, was the horrible smell! I assumed it was dead fish, though I couldn’t find any carcasses. However, it was very windy that day so I’m sure the odor would carry.

While I’m on the topic of wind something else we noticed: the lake was so low, the wind was causing the sand to drift over the highway, like snow in the winter time!

Sand-Drift at Merritt ReservoirThe third and most striking thing I saw was the fact that the overflow/spillway in the lake was completely out of the water! No more irrigation that summer!

Spillway at Merritt ReservoirAs we drove around the lake and gazed across the arm of the Powderhorn, my husband was quite shocked to see so much sand!

Merritt Reservoir - Powderhorn Branch

We located a boat ramp in the public launch area and noticed that it wouldn’t work to launch our ski boat! (Luckily we didn’t bring it out that weekend.)

Ramp covered in sand at Merritt ReservoirAs I turned around to look at the trees on the original shoreline, you could actually see the dark line where the water had been in the past.

Merritt Reservoir

We left the Powderhorn area and drove to the more populated camping side of the lake, past the WatersEdge Restaurant, (which is probably at least 100′ from the water in these pictures, not quite the lakeside restaurant due to the drought).

WatersEdge Restaurant at Merritt ReservoirWe discovered even more closed boat ramps on this side, but yet we knew some ramps must be open because there were a few boaters out there!

Ramp Closed at Merritt ReservoirI know the drought was felt far and wide that year and I’m glad to report that the lake did recover. This is a very pretty lake, and looks to be quite attractive to the fisherman, based on all the photos we saw inside the Trading Post. Maybe someday I will return with my Mastercraft Prostar and the kids to do some skiing along the nice wind blocked hillside.  If you are ever in the Sand Hills, do check out the lake. It is very beautiful in it’s rustic charm!Merritt Reservoir in a drought

About Shey Harms

Shey has enjoyed the lake life since she was very young. Her parents always had a place at the lake for as long as she can remember. Now, she belongs to a waterski club in Kansas and drives their family boat in the ski shows teaching her family some of the traditions she learned as a child.

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