Crow Irrigation Project – Regulatory Background

The rehabilitation and improvement of the Crow Irrigation Project (CIP) is directed by two main regulatory frameworks, the Crow Tribe Water Rights Settlement and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Parallel to this regulatory context, the design and construction of the project will be guided by the Engineering Master Plan.

Crow Tribe Water Rights Settlement

The Crow Tribe (Tribe) and the state of Montana signed an agreement (Crow Tribe-Montana Water Rights Compact of 1999, or Compact) to settle disputes related to the Tribe’s water rights. The Compact provides for a number of water rights control and uses by the Crow Tribe. A decree in a Montana court of competence is needed to legally finalize Crow water rights. The ongoing legal proceeding for their water rights is a separate process from the CIP improvement and repair projects discussed as part of the Programmatic Environmental Assessment (EA).

The U.S. Congress passed the Claims Resolution Act (Public Law 111-291, December 8, 2010) which contained the Crow Tribe Water Rights Settlement Act of 2010 (Settlement Act or Act). The Settlement Act authorizes and directs the Secretary of Interior to execute the Crow Tribe-Montana Water Rights Compact, and to take any other action necessary to carry out the Compact under Title IV of the Settlement Act.

The Settlement Act identifies a number of federal, state, and tribal actions for the Crow’s use and management of their water rights. The Act authorizes funds for improving the Crow Irrigation Project (CIP) and repairs and maintenance of the CIP, among other projects. The Act includes a storage allocation of water for the Tribe in Bighorn Lake.

The Tribe and the Secretary of Interior must enter into agreements to implement the projects and other related actions identified in the Settlement Act. Figure 2 shows the various activities authorized in the Settlement Act and how they relate to preparation of the CIP Programmatic EA. Agreements are required for most of the projects, including the CIP. For the CIP project, Section 405 of the Settlement Act directs the Secretary to enter into an implementation agreement with the Tribe upon their request.

Figure 2. Settlement Act components.

National Environmental Policy Act / Other Federal Compliance

In implementing the Compact, the Act further directs the Secretary of Interior to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA), the Endangered Species Act of 1973, and other applicable laws and regulations. The Secretary is responsible for carrying out all federal compliance activities necessary to implement the Compact. The Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) is the lead agency with regard to federal compliance activities for the CIP project.

In September 2012, Reclamation and the Tribe entered into an implementation agreement for the CIP. Several environmental compliance activities are included:

  • The Tribe agrees to perform activities required by NEPA and to assist Reclamation in assuring compliance with the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA), Executive Order 11593, and the Archaeological and Historic Preservation Act (AHPA).
  • Reclamation agrees to make final determinations under NEPA and other laws, and to conduct consultations required by the NHPA and the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA).
  • Based on negotiations for the CIP Agreement and the Annual Funding Agreement, the Tribe will: 1) undertake preparation of NEPA documents and analyses, and 2) undertake cultural resource surveys for compliance with NHPA. Reclamation will: 1) review environmental and cultural resource compliance documents, 2) issue any finding of no significant impacts (FONSI), 3) issue any decision document, and 4) conduct NHPA and NAGPRA consultations and other related activities.

Reclamation has a responsibility to protect and conserve trust assets of the Crow Tribe and of Tribal members. This responsibility extends to providing oversight of the expenditure of appropriated federal project funds to best serve the interests of the Tribe and its members. Project reviews are needed to ensure collective government actions taken by Interior agencies and the Tribe fulfill trust asset responsibilities, while meeting environmental laws and regulations.

Programmatic Environmental Assessment

NEPA Requirements

In accordance with NEPA, a Programmatic Environmental Assessment (EA) has being prepared for the rehabilitation and improvement of the CIP. As the lead agency, Reclamation determined that the activities associated with CIP repairs represent a federal discretionary action that may have effects that are uncertain, and for which it is uncertain whether an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) may be required. Therefore, Reclamation determined that an EA was the appropriate type of environmental review for this project.

The EA document is used to inform decision-makers and the public on the proposed action, develop reasonable alternatives of project actions, and to summarize the environmental effects of the alternatives. A Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) was prepared because the EA demonstrated that there were no significant impacts resulting from the proposed action and an EIS was not necessary.

Programmatic Document

Because the CIP project will be implemented in stages or phases, a programmatic environmental assessment (EA) was prepared. In a programmatic EA, general project work activities are analyzed while reserving the analysis of the later phases of work until final detail has been identified. The programmatic nature of the CIP EA will allow general descriptions to cover multiple phases within the greater CIP. The programmatic EA will serve as the basis for identifying project-wide conservation measures for water quality, rivers and streams, wetlands, soils, wildlife, fisheries, and cultural resources. An agreement will be developed for detailed, site-specific environmental, historical, and cultural compliance.

EA Scope and Process

The EA document included discussion of the proposed project, the need for the proposal, the environmental impacts of the alternatives considered, and a summary of consultations with agencies, other interested entities, and the public.

The EA document was prepared and a draft was issued in the fall of 2014, with a final issued in January of 2015. These EA document is available for downloading and browsing on this web site. As a member of the public, your involvement and comments provided useful and valuable information at all stages of the EA process.

FONSI and Decision Document

Based upon the analysis contained in the Final EA, Reclamation determined that the Proposed Action would not have significant or highly uncertain impacts on the quality of the human environment and thus, a Finding of No Significant Impact was prepared and the Proposed Action was selected for implementation.

Engineering Master Plan

The Crow Tribe hired Bartlett & West, a professional consulting firm, to prepare project engineering master plan for the CIP project, which will guide design and construction of project facilities. A master plan is a large, technical document that contains information about location, design, materials, methods, testing, and operation of water project facilities. The master plans will be updated as new details are agreed upon and finalized.

Reclamation and the Tribe will review and negotiate changes to the final engineering master plans for the CIP project. While the final plan provides guidance for administering the project work, some activities may need to be coordinated immediately before or during construction. Full completion of the project may require up to ten years or more. Annual work plans or unit work plans will be prepared by the Tribe before the start of each construction season and reviewed by Reclamation. The plans will allow for scheduling further field surveys and site-specific environmental reviews.

Last Updated: 6/24/15