Platte River Recovery Implementation Program Proposed First Increment Extension Environmental Assessment (EA) –
Project Description

The Platte River Recovery Implementation Program (Program) began on January 1, 2007 following the approval of the Governors of Colorado, Nebraska, and Wyoming, and the Secretary of the Interior (Signatories) and was scheduled to run for 13 years through December 31, 2019 (First Increment). The Program provides Endangered Species Act compliance for water related activities in the Platte River Basin of the three states (including federal water projects) while providing defined benefits for the Program’s four target threatened and endangered species (whooping crane, interior least tern, piping plover, and pallid sturgeon).

Platte River Basin Map

The Program’s long-term goal is to improve and maintain the associated habitats of the target species, which includes:

  1. Improving and maintaining migrational habitat for whooping cranes and reproductive habitat for least terns and piping plovers;
  2. Reducing the likelihood of future listing of other species found in this area; and
  3. Testing the assumption that managing flow in the central Platte River also improves the pallid sturgeon’s lower Platte River habitat.

The Program signatories committed to achieving the following objectives by the end of the First Increment of the Program:

  1. Providing water capable of improving the occurrence of Platte River flows in the central Platte River associated habitats relative to the present occurrence of species and annual pulse target flows by an average of 130,000 to 150,000 acre-feet (AF) per year at Grand Island, through reregulation and water conservation/supply projects (referred to as the Water Action Plan Milestone).
  2. Protecting, restoring where appropriate, and maintaining at least 10,000 acres of habitat in the central Platte River area between Lexington and Chapman, Nebraska.

During the First Increment ESA compliance is measured through the achievement of 10 Program Milestones. The Program has achieved eight of the 10 milestones; the Water Action Plan Milestone is not achievable by the end of 2019 as many of the water projects developed by the Program and Governance Committee will not come online until after 2019. The Nebraska Depletions Plan Milestone is also not achievable by 2019 as the State of Nebraska has partnered with the Program on a water project which is currently on hold due to fiscal constraints. The Program currently provides 90,000 AF of water towards the Water Action Plan Milestone target of 130,000 to 150,000 AF. Additional Water Action Plan projects are in various stages of planning and design. Those projects will not be operational prior to the end of 2019, and may require more funding than what is available during the First Increment.

The final Program Agreement provides for the Agreement to be extended or amended upon written agreement of the Signatories. The Governance Committee has proposed a 13-year Extension (2020-2032) of the First Increment. The Extension would not change First Increment objectives, milestones, or the implementation framework. It would provide additional time to complete and operate Program water projects and to conduct the monitoring and research necessary to determine the best use of Program water to benefit the target species. This knowledge is necessary to provide a sound base upon which to structure a Second Increment. Proposed Extension activities are organized according to the existing Program land, water, and adaptive management plan structure. These activities would be implemented in 2020-2032 and would reflect GC decisions through the end of the First Increment. Accomplishment of Extension activities would be dependent upon what is practicably achievable given available funding and resources.

Program Land Plan Activities

The First Increment milestone of protecting 10,000 acres has been achieved. Restoration and management of habitat lands is ongoing and Extension Land Plan activities would proceed under the same principles that have guided land acquisition and management since Program initiation. In addition to ongoing land management activities, the Program would acquire an interest in at least an additional 1,500 acres of complex habitat with the intent of establishing a new habitat complex.

Program Water Action Plan

The Program is committed to achieving the minimum water milestone of 130,000 AF in annual reductions to target flow shortages. However, the Program recognizes that there are fiscal constraints to achieving this Milestone, and that scientific investigations need to be completed to confirm the need for 130,000 AF in annual reductions to target flows. The Program would invest the resources to achieve at least 120,000 AF of annual reductions to target flow shortages as quickly as possible during the proposed Extension, and would also invest in the science necessary to determine if the additional 10,000 AF is justified. The Program would be committed to finding the additional resources necessary to achieve that additional 10,000 AF if justified by the science. Extension Water Plan activities would proceed under the same principles that have guided water supply and management since Program initiation.

Program Integrated Monitoring & Research Plan/Adaptive Management Plan

The Program’s Integrated Monitoring & Research Plan (IMRP) milestone has been achieved. During the proposed Extension, the IMRP and Adaptive Management Plan would include the evaluation of U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service target flows in addition to current Program management actions. Management actions would include short duration high flows, sediment augmentation, habitat management, invasive species control efforts, and utilization of Program water assets to implement and evaluate flow-related management actions. The IMRP would continue to provide the framework for monitoring the effectiveness of Program actions during the proposed extension, and the Program would continue to consider emerging science related to climate change in management and decision making.

Proposed First Increment Extension Funding

The Federal and state contributions to the proposed Extension would continue through the existing 50/50 cost share structure, with the states receiving credits for in-kind water contributions. It is anticipated that the Department of the Interior would provide $78 million in cash funding, with the states providing $28 million in cash and $50 million in water to the Program. The Department of the Interior’s continued participation and funding of the Program is dependent upon continued authorization and appropriations from Congress.

Last Updated: 9/27/17