Construction crews have begun work on the North Platte River to narrow the channel, abate erosion on the banks, enhance wildlife habitat, and improve water quality.

"By moving the force of the river to the middle of the channel, we reduce the stress on the bank and reduce erosion," said Jolene Martinez of the City of Casper's Public Services Department Engineering Division.

"Erosion creates sediment in the river, and sediment is one of the major things that degrades the quality of water," Martinez said. "For the City of Casper, this project is about protecting and improving our drinking water."

This marks the third phase of the project.

The first phase began a year ago, Martinez said, with construction crews moving the river about 80 feet to the west in the Wyoming Boulevard area; narrowing the channel; adding rock structures below the river bed to move water to the middle of the channel to lessen bank erosion; creating wood debris toe structures to protect and extend the river bank; and adding wetlands to the ends of storm water outfalls to filter street pollutants.

In this phase, more channel-narrowing will happen, she said. Crews will remove an island with invasive Russian Olive trees by the water treatment plant, and replace it with a large back-water wetland. Crews also will pave the new pathway near Wyoming Boulevard.

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department is working with the city because improving drinking water for people also improves it for aquatic habitat, Martinez said. Repairing the banks also enhances plant and the wildlife habitat, she said.

When this $2.6 million third phase is done, 1.2 miles of the river from Morad Park to the Central Wyoming Regional Water Treatment Plant will be restored. Other projects to restore the river are under consideration, Martinez said.

The lead contractor is Shamrock Environmental from Browns Summit, N.C., Martinez said. The company has hired a lot of workers from Wyoming and is renting equipment from Wyoming companies, too, she said.

Funding is coming from a Wyoming Business Council community enhancement grant, a grant from the Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust grant, a grant from the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission, a grant from the Wyoming Governor's Big Game Commission, Natrona County consensus money, unallocated Optional One-Cent Sales Tax No. 14 revenues, and the Central Wyoming Regional Water Treatment Plant.

The work will cause some inconveniences, Martinez said.

The Game and Fish Department closed the river to non-motorized and motorized watercraft from Morad Park to the bridge at Wyoming Boulevard in Mills.

Likewise, the new pathway and new riverbank along Wyoming Boulevard will be closed when work begins in that area.