Doi Unveils Platte River Restoration Plans
The Interior Department has released a draft environmental impact statement covering four options aimed at restoring water flows to the Platte River.
The river, which runs through Wyoming, Colorado and Nebraska, supplies drinking water for some three million individuals and is considered by conservationists to be the most important stopover for migratory birds in the nation’s heartland.
The four alternatives share several common features – voluntary water transfers, incremental timetables, retimed water flows, depletion management, shared federal/state costs and streamlined compliance with the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
The costs of the proposals range from $97 million to $180 million.
The proposals reviewed in the draft environmental impact statement are the culmination of a cooperative agreement signed in 1997 by the states of Nebraska, Colorado and Wyoming and the Department of the Interior.
The agreement’s goal was to offset the negative effects that decades of dam building, water diversions and overuse have had on the Platte’s flows and habitat.
In many places, the river is a fraction of its original width and long stretches of it dry up altogether in the summer.
The Platte River supports four species federally listed as threatened or endangered – the whooping crane, the piping plover, the interior least tern and the pallid sturgeon.
The drying of the Platte has also had important consequences for people. More than three million people get their drinking water from the Platte or nearby wells, and the Platte’s wells and surface water projects irrigate more than 3.5 million acres of farmland.
Bird watching is a major economic boon to communities along the Platte, generating between $25 million and $53 million annually in tourism dollars.
Conservationists said the draft environmental impact statement is an important first step in restoring the water flows for wildlife and people.
“The Platte is a river dying of thirst,” said the Nebraska Wildlife Federation’s Duane Hovorka. “With increasing demands on the Platte, the water situation will worsen without basin wide, cooperative efforts between Nebraska, Colorado, Wyoming and the federal government – the kind of effort set forth in the draft environmental impact statement.”
Provided by theEnvironmental News Service.