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U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
134 Union Boulevard
Lakewood, Colorado 80228
The Platte River EIS Office
U.S. Bureau of Reclamation - U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Contact: Curt Brown
FOR RELEASE: 1/22/04 04-05
DRAFT PLATTE RIVER
The Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today jointly released for public comment the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program. Public comments are requested by April 2, 2004.
In 1997, the states of Colorado, Nebraska, and Wyoming and the Department 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 on the Platte River in Nebraska. The four target species are the whooping crane, interior least tern, piping plover, and pallid sturgeon.
The Platte River Recovery Implementation Program is the proposed Federal action analyzed in the DEIS. The DEIS assesses the environmental consequences of the first 13 years of the proposed program. This analysis is carried out to meet requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Endangered Species Act (ESA). When implemented, the program is intended to provide compliance with the ESA for certain existing water projects and water uses as well as certain future water uses in the Platte River Basin. In addition to the proposed program, the DEIS evaluates three other alternatives. The DEIS does not identify a preferred alternative.
The Cooperative Agreement established the Governance Committee, with representatives from the three states, water users, environmental groups, and Federal agencies, which formulated the program proposal evaluated in the DEIS. Although the Governance Committee put the proposal forward for NEPA and ESA evaluation, no final decisions have been made by the committee or its member organizations to adopt or implement the proposal. Decisions by the state governors and the Secretary of the Interior on implementation are not expected until early 2005, after completion of the NEPA and ESA review process in late 2004.
The DEIS is being released for public comment at the same time that a report is expected from the National Research Council (part of the National Academy of Science) reviewing the science related to the proposed Program.
The DEIS was prepared jointly by two Interior agencies; the Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Reclamation’s Great Plains Regional Director Maryanne Bach said, AWhile it has been a long and challenging process, I know that all members of the Governance Committee believe a collaborative approach is by far the most efficient and equitable approach to solving the endangered species issues in the basin. Implementing a successful Program will allow several important Reclamation water projects in the Platte River Basin to continue operations while meeting the requirements of the ESA for these four species and their habitat."
Based upon the findings in the DEIS, the Service plans to prepare and release a draft Biological Opinion in March. The Biological Opinion documents the Service=s judgment as to whether the proposed recovery program provides sufficient benefits for the habitat of the four species to meet the requirements of the ESA. Typically, a draft Biological Opinion is only prepared once a preferred alternative has been identified. However, as part of the Cooperative Agreement, the Service agreed to provide a draft Biological Opinion for the Governance Committee alternative for the Program. Fish and Wildlife Service Regional Director Ralph Morgenweck, said, The draft biological opinion, along with the National Academy of Science's review, will be important pieces of information for the Governance Committee to consider." He added, "I'm optimistic that we can create a Program that meets all needs, including those of water users and the listed species."
Copies of the DEIS are available from the Platte River EIS Office, either as hard copies or on a CD-ROM. A summary is also available. For further information regarding this DEIS, or to obtain additional copies of the DEIS, contact the Platte River EIS Office (PL-100), PO Box 25007, Denver CO 80225-0007, telephone (303) 445-2096 or fax (303) 445-6331. More information and publications can be found at www.platteriver.org. Instructions for making comments are included in the document.
Public hearings on the DEIS will be held in each of the three states. Times and locations will be announced.
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Frequently Asked Questions Associated with the
What is an Environmental Impact Statement?
The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires that federal agencies consider the environmental impacts of their proposed actions and any reasonable alternatives to those actions. To meet this requirement, federal agencies prepare a detailed statement known as an Environmental Impact Statement. Draft environmental impact statements are released to inform the public and to solicit public comments.
The Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) and the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) have released for public comment a draft environmental statement (DEIS) for the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program (Program). The public comment period is until April 2, 2004.
What is the federal action that the DEIS analyzes?
The proposed federal action is to help fund and implement a Platte River basinwide, cooperative recovery implementation program to help recover the four target species (whooping crane, interior least tern, piping plover, pallid sturgeon) which use riverine and nearby habitat in Nebraska.
Four alternative approaches for the Program are analyzed in the DEIS. They are:
1. The Governance Committee alternative.
2. The Water Leasing alternative.
3. The Wet Meadow alternative
4. The Water Emphasis alternative.
Why is a Program required?
Federal agencies are required to ensure that any federal, state, or private projects which require federal permits, licenses, approvals, or funding, must ensure that they do not jeopardize the continued existence of threatened or endangered species, or adversely affect designated critical habitat for those species. Over the past 20 years, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has determined that many water projects in the Platte River Basin have jeopardized the existence of these four threatened and endangered species by altering riverine and nearby habitat along the Central and Lower Platte in Nebraska.
Leaders from the states of Wyoming, Colorado, and Nebraska, and the Department of the Interior, along with water user and environmental group representatives, believe that the best way to address these impacts is through a basinwide, cooperative effort to improve river flows and land habitat for the target species. This was the basis for the Cooperative Agreement, which the States and Interior signed in 1997.
Such a Program, they believe, will be the most efficient, effective, and equitable way to create improvements in the habitat for the target species. In doing so, such a Program will allow hundreds of existing water projects and activities in the Platte River Basin to continue operation and meet the requirements of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) for these species. The Program also provides a process for certain new water projects to be constructed and operated in compliance with the ESA.
What happens if a basinwide, cooperative Program is not implemented?
All Platte River Basin water projects that are operated by, funded by, or authorized by the Federal Government (which includes a large number of private projects) must operate in compliance with the ESA. They must avoid causing impacts that are likely to jeopardize listed species or adversely modify critical habitat. Where operations of projects have historically caused such effects, offsetting measures must be implemented to restore habitat.
Without a basinwide, cooperative Program to accomplish habitat restoration, each water project or activity will be responsible for providing its own offsetting measures. For many reasons, the costs to individual projects in money, time, and water resources are likely to be much greater if a cooperative Program is not implemented. Details are found in the DEIS and attachments.
Does the DEIS identify the best alternative for the Program?
No. The Department of the Interior has not identified a preferred alternative at this time. None of the other parties represented on the Governance Committee has reached a decision on the alternatives at this time.
Will any of the alternatives meet the requirements of the Endangered Species Act?
The question of whether an alternative is sufficient to meet the requirements of the ESA will be addressed in a Biological Opinion prepared by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Typically, an Opinion is not prepared until a preferred alternative is identified. However, under the Cooperative Agreement, the Service agreed to prepare a draft Biological Opinion evaluating the Governance Committee’s proposed approach to a Program. The draft Biological Opinion is expected to be released in March.
Why hasn’t a preferred alternative been selected at this point?
The Department of the Interior believes that it is important to complete the draft EIS, the draft Biological Opinion, and obtain public review and comment prior to selecting a preferred alternative.
How much will the alternatives cost?
A complete budget for each alternative has not been developed that covers all implementation, permitting, administrative and staffing costs. The DEIS displays cost estimates for the major aspects of each alternative that have environmental consequences.
The first-increment costs for those major aspects range from $50 million for the Wet Meadow alternative to $180 million for the Water Emphasis alternative. Costs for other aspects such as research and monitoring, and staffing, have not yet been developed. The Governance Committee continues to work on a budget estimate for their proposal.
How will the costs of the Program be shared?
The Cooperative Agreement stipulated an approximately equal sharing of the Program costs; 50 percent from the three states, and 50 percent from the federal treasury. Discussions about cost-sharing continue in the Governance Committee.
How do the alternatives benefit the target species?
Although the alternatives vary in the benefits they produce, all alternatives improve the achievement of the Service’s target flows at Grand Island, Nebraska, for the three target bird species. Improvements range from 118,000 to 185,000 acre-feet (af) on an average annual basis, focusing primarily on increasing river flows in the spring, summer, and early fall.
All alternatives provide improvements to land habitat along the Central Platte by acquiring interests in land from willing participants (through purchase, lease, or easement) and restoring habitat. Habitat restoration focuses primarily on restoration of wet meadow areas and areas of wide unvegetated river channel.
Some of the alternatives improve river channel habitat by clearing wooded river islands and lowering island elevations to broaden the flow of water within existing river banks. Some alternatives involve moving river sand perched on wooded islands back into the active channel to begin offsetting the ongoing down cutting and narrowing of the river channel and to support formation of sandbars for roosting and nesting.
All alternatives involve taking steps on Program habitat lands to reduce disturbance to roosting, nesting, or foraging birds.
All alternatives include a multi-year program of research on the pallid sturgeon to increase understanding of the species and its habitat, and to help design future habitat improvements.
All alternatives involve an extensive program of research and monitoring of the target species and their habitat, and the response of the species and the river system to Program actions.
How do the alternatives affect farmers and water users?
Farmers and other water users in the basin could choose to temporarily lease water to the Program. Farmers and other land owners in the Central Platte area could offer to sell or lease land to the Program, or sell easements, for habitat restoration.
How do the alternatives affect recreationists?
The DEIS analysis projects small reductions in recreational use of the North Platte Reservoirs in Wyoming due to somewhat lower water levels. More significant reductions in water levels and recreational use are projected for Lake McConaughy in western Nebraska. An increase is projected for hunting and birdwatching opportunities along the Central Platte in Nebraska.
How do the alternatives affect local economies?
It is expected that individuals will choose to lease or sell water or land to the Program only if it is economically advantageous to do so. Thus, at an individual level, water or land owners could benefit financially from the Program. In addition, many elements of the Program bring money into the local economies through expenditures for construction and land management. The primary negative effect of the Program on local economies is through reductions in crop production (mostly due to voluntary water leasing) and hence a reduction in expenditures for local agricultural services and supplies. Overall, in all of the basin economic regions, the positive and negative economic impacts are less than one tenth of one percent of the existing level of activity (sales, income, taxes, employment.)
Do the Program alternatives have impacts on public health and safety?
Some individuals expressed concern that the Program would increase the populations of mosquitoes and non-migratory, resident waterfowl in the Central Platte area, possibly leading to increases in mosquito-borne disease and problems of water contamination from waterfowl droppings and other nuisance problems. The DEIS analysis of proposed land and water elements in the Central Platte area indicate that: (1) the Program alternatives would not increase areas of standing water in the summertime because the types of wet meadow habitat that the Program seeks to increase are not wet during the summer mosquito breeding season; (2) the Program may reduce somewhat the occurrence of very low river flows that lead to ponding and stagnant water suitable for mosquito breeding; (3) the Program alternatives do not increase habitat suitable for geese and waterfowl nesting and hence would not increase their overall numbers; and (4) the Program alternatives do not increase the type of protected, irrigated, urban habitat preferred by nonmigratory, resident geese populations (e.g., ponds and parks).
What are the most significant differences among the alternatives?
In terms of benefits to the target species, alternatives that incorporate measures to clear and lower wooded river islands, to move sand from islands back into the river channel, and to create annual flows that prevent encroachment of vegetation into the channel, provide greater increases in usable channel habitat for the bird species (Governance Committee Alternative, Scenario 2; Water Leasing Alternative; Wet Meadow Alternative; and Water Emphasis Alternative). The Wet Meadow alternative creates the greatest increase in habitat for crane foraging.
In terms of impacts on reservoir levels and recreation, alternatives which provide more of the program water through leasing tend to maintain reservoirs at a somewhat higher level than other alternatives, reducing somewhat the impacts on fisheries and lake recreation (Water Leasing Alternative).
In terms of impacts on local economies, alternatives which have the least amount of water leasing (and hence the smallest reduction in crop production), and the most investment in land restoration tend to have the smallest adverse impacts and the greatest positive impacts on local economies (Wet Meadow Alternative).
Who will decide whether to implement a cooperative Program?
Once a final EIS and Biological Opinion are prepared (scheduled for late 2004), the Secretary of the Interior will reach a decision on whether the Department of the Interior will enter into an agreement to implement a Recovery Implementation Program. Each state Governor will make a decision whether to join in an agreement. The State legislatures and the U.S. Congress will make decisions on funding.
Will public hearings be held?
Yes, at several locations in the Basin. Times and locations will be published in national and local media and in the Federal Register.
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