Feds release plan for Platte River
DENVER – A plan to accommodate both endangered species and the growing number of cities and farmers tapping the Platte River was released Tuesday with recommendations that water flows be increased and land set aside for wildlife.The final environmental impact statement represents years of legal wrangling and negotiations among the three states the Platte flows through: Colorado, Wyoming and Nebraska.The plan’s release comes as hundreds of farmers in northeastern Colorado are scrambling to keep their wells flowing in the face of legal battles over claims they were draining the river to the detriment of people with senior water rights.Curt Brown of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation said the plan is intended to ensure there’s adequate water and habitat for four species of threatened and endangered birds and fish while looking out for the water users.”This is an endangered species recovery implementation program. There’s been a loss of habitat in the central Platte Valley over the last 150 years,” said Brown, the environmental study’s manager.
The Platte River in central Nebraska is a major stop for migrating whooping cranes and home to the piping plover, least tern and pallid sturgeon. They’re all considered threatened or endangered species.The river’s two branches start in the Colorado mountains, flow through Wyoming and Colorado, and merge in Nebraska. The plan to manage the Platte, now open for public comment, maps out four options for restoring wildlife habitat in central Nebraska.The study recommends the alternative calling for acquiring at least 10,000 acres in central Nebraska and increasing flows in the Platte at key times by 130,000 acre-feet to 150,000 acre-feet.An acre-foot of water is enough water to supply one or two families for a year.Brown said the plan won’t necessarily require adding water to the river. He said flows could be increased by storing water during the winter and releasing more of it in the summer and spring.
The proposed increases would make up only a third of the water shortages identified by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Brown said the plan will be carried out in increments, with the suggested increases to be phased in over the first 13 years.”We’re trying to take a significant first step,” Brown said.Dan Luecke of the National Wildlife Federation is a member of the committee of state and federal wildlife and water managers and environmentalists that wrote the recommended alternative. He said environmentalists agree that the plan is a big move forward even if the proposed water flows aren’t as much as they would like.Negotiations on use of the Platte started in the early 1990s. Colorado, Wyoming and Nebraska signed an agreement in 1997 after the Fish and Wildlife Service said water projects on the river threatened the vulnerable wildlife.The Fish and Wildlife Service is expected to release an opinion on the environmental impact statement in early June. A final decision will be made on the plan after that study and public comments are considered.
—On the Net:Platte River Recovery Implementation Program: http://www.platteriver.org
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