U.S. Department of the InteriorDOI News Header
Office of the Secretary
September 28, 2006
Contact: Mark Andersen, 406-247-7610
or Frank Quimby, 202-208-7291

Secretary Signs Agreement for Platte River Recovery Program to Aid Endangered and Threatened Species

WASHINGTON, DC -- Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne today signed off on a proposed Platte River Recovery Implementation Program, approving Interior's participation in a $300 million, basin-wide effort to improve habitat for four threatened and endangered species that use the Platte River in Nebraska.

Kempthorne signed the Record of Decision (ROD) for the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) on the Program. The Governors of Colorado, Nebraska and Wyoming must also sign the agreement to implement the program.

"The Platte River Basin has seen more than two decades of conflict over water use and endangered species," Kempthorne said. "This recovery program is an outstanding collaborative effort among interest groups to cooperatively address the needs of endangered species and ensure that current uses of basin water can continue."

"The initiative is based on significant scientific research and analysis, including a review and endorsement by the National Academy of Sciences," Kempthorne explained. "By pooling resources and coordinating the restoration effort, the program provides a cost-effective way to meet each water user's obligations under the Endangered Species Act. It removes the uncertainty for water users about what will be required to comply with the ESA for the whooping crane, interior least tern, piping plover, and pallid sturgeon."

The ROD approves the following Federal actions: 1). Authorizing the Interior Secretary's signature on the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program Cooperative Agreement; 2) Funding and implementing the Program by the Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in cooperation with the States of Wyoming, Colorado, and Nebraska and other participants, subject to required congressional authorization and appropriations; and 3) Appointing the Platte River Recovery Program Governance Committee to act as the recovery implementation team.

The preferred alternative described in the FEIS and approved in the ROD would improve habitat for the target species in the Central Platte Habitat Area (along the Platte River from Lexington to Chapman, Nebraska) by the following methods:

  • Reducing shortages to the Fish and Wildlife Service's recommended target flows in the central Platte River by about 130,000 to 150,000 acre-feet on an average annual basis, primarily by retiming river flows to improve habitat conditions in the spring, summer, and early fall. (An acre-foot is about 326,000 gallons.)

  • Leasing or acquiring land in the Central Platte Habitat Area from willing sellers and restoring habitat, focusing primarily on restoration of wet meadow areas and areas of wide unvegetated river channel.

  • Testing the assumption that managing flow in the Central Platte River also improves habitat for the pallid sturgeon in the Lower Platte River.

    The Platte River Recovery Implementation Program was formulated by the Platte River Governance Committee, which is made up of representatives of the States of Colorado, Wyoming, and Nebraska, the Bureau of Reclamation, the Fish and Wildlife Service, and water users and environmental groups in the Platte River Basin.

    When the implementing agreement is signed by the state governors, and Federal authorizing and funding legislation is enacted, the Program will begin. The Federal government will provide half the funding necessary for the Program; the other half will be contributed by the three states through non-Federal funds, water and lands. The estimated total value of these cash and cash-equivalent contributions over the first 13-year increment of the Program is about $317 million.

    An Executive Director will be hired to guide day-to-day operations of the Program and to supervise staff and contracts. The Governance Committee will contract with a financial management agency to hold and disburse the funds contributed by the Program's partners and a land interest holding agency to hold title to Program lands.

    The FEIS process was started in 1997 when the Governors of Colorado, Nebraska and Wyoming and the Secretary of the Interior signed a cooperative agreement to jointly pursue a basin-wide effort to improve and maintain habitat for four threatened and endangered species that use the Platte River in Nebraska.

    That cooperative agreement established the Governance Committee whose charge was to formulate a detailed proposal to improve and maintain habitat and to provide compliance with the ESA for certain existing and future water uses in each State.

    The FEIS, prepared jointly by the Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, analyzed the Governance Committee's proposal and three other alternatives for the first 13-year increment of the Program. The FEIS identified the Governance Committee Alternative as the Department's preferred alternative.

    The Record of Decision is posted along with other Platte River Recovery implementation Program documents at http//www.platteriver.org.

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