Platte River Recovery Implementation Program



How to Seek ESA Coverage for Water-Related Activities through the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program



Water-related projects that need a federal authorization, funding, or are carried out by a federal agency require consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).  Federal agencies are required by Section 7(a)(2) of the ESA to ensure that those actions are not likely to jeopardize listed species or adversely modify their designated critical habitat. Thus, water-related activities requiring, for example, a Section 404 Clean Water Act permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, a special use permit issued by the U.S. Forest Service, or federal funding assistance are subject to Section 7 of the ESA.

Since the late 1970’s, the FWS has issued “jeopardy” biological opinions for numerous water-depleting projects in the Platte River basin, as new or continued water depletions have been considered contributing factors in jeopardizing the existence of the target species and adversely affecting designated critical habitat.  Individual water projects undergoing ESA consultation are required to offset the effects of these depletions on the listed species.  In the past this has involved project-specific offsetting measures. With the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program in place, streamlined procedures are available for project proponents to seek ESA coverage under the Program umbrella.

What the Program Does

The Program allows existing and most or all new water uses and water-development activities in the Platte River basin in Colorado, Wyoming, and Nebraska above the Loup River confluence to operate in regulatory compliance with the ESA for the four Platte "target species" in Nebraska (the whooping crane, the interior least tern, the northern Great Plains population of the piping plover, and the pallid sturgeon).  This is made possible by the offsetting measures being implemented during the first increment of the Program, including measures which will substantially reduce shortages to target flows in the central Platte River, and which will obtain and restore habitat for the target species.

By agreeing to be covered by the Program, proponents of water-related projects subject to Section 7 ESA consultation can ensure compliance relative to the Platte target species, can avoid the potential for prohibited “take” of these species under ESA Section 9, and can take advantage of pre-defined procedures and expectations going into the ESA consultation process.

How Projects Can Seek ESA Coverage Under the Program

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has developed “guidance documents” describing the process of seeking ESA coverage in each state.  Links to these and other relevant materials and Web sites are provided below.  Note that for all projects in the basin, a de minimisdepletions threshold has been established.  Below this threshold, consultation with the Service for potential depletive impacts to these species is not required.

Colorado Water Users

Nebraska Water Users

Wyoming Water Users

Federal Water Users

More information about the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program may be found at

USFWS Guidance: Wetland activities and Platte River depletions


The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with Others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American People.
Last modified: November 30, 2020
All Images Credit to and Courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Unless Specified Otherwise.
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