Platte River Recovery Implementation Program: Four Years into the First Increment


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A piping plover sitting on eggs. (Paul Tessier/

By Jerry F. Kenny

On July 1, 1997, the states of Colorado, Nebraska and Wyoming, together with the Department of the Interior, entered into a Cooperative Agreement to deal with Endangered Species Act (ESA) issues in the Platte Basin in a coordinated, comprehensive, manner. The named species were the endangered whooping crane, least tern, pallid sturgeon and the threatened piping plover. The product of the Cooperative Agreement was the plan for dealing with the ESA issues, the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program (PRRIP). In late 2006, the governors of the three states and the Secretary of Interior signed the document, and on Jan. 1, 2007, the Cooperative Agreement phase ended and the PRRIP phase began. The first increment of the program is for 13 years, from 2007 to 2019. On July 1, 2007, 10 years to the day after initiation of the Cooperative Agreement, I assumed the role of executive director of the program.

The PRRIP has three main elements:

* Increasing streamflows in the central Platte River during relevant time periods by an average of 130,000 to 150,000 acre-feet per year through reregulation and water conservation/supply projects.

* Enhancing, restoring and protecting 10,000 acres of habitat lands for the target species.

* Accommodating new water-related activities consistent with long-term Program goals.

The process includes land and water components, guided by an adaptive management framework.

The organizational structure of the PRRIP is different from many of the other existing Recovery Implementation Programs. The key organizational difference is that the actual day-to-day implementation actions are carried out by private-sector entities rather than a government agency. Control of the program rests with a group of stakeholders that prominently includes state and federal representatives, but the services of the executive director and program staff are provided through a contract with Headwaters Corporation. The Financial Management Entity services are provided through a contract with the Nebraska Community Foundation. The Land Interest Holding Entity services are provided through a contract with the Platte River Recovery Implementation Foundation. In most other Recovery Programs, these implementation functions are performed by federal employees acting through their specific agency. This fairly unique structure was selected to embody the collaborative nature under which the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program has been undertaken.

The Governance Committee is the ruling body that makes program decisions and is ultimately responsible for implementation of the program. The Governance Committee is a 10-member body with representation by the states of Colorado, Nebraska and Wyoming, U.S. Department of Interior agencies the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Downstream (of Lake McConaughy) Water Users, Upstream (of Lake McConaughy) Water Users, Colorado Water Users and three representatives (with two votes) of environmental/conservation organizations. The Governance Committee is assisted in financial matters by the Finance Committee and is advised by the standing Technical, Water, and Land Advisory Committees, staffed by appointees selected by the member entities of the Governance Committee. The Independent Scientific Advisory Committee also advises the Governance Committee.

Platte River near Overton bridge. (PRRIP) In 2007 and 2008, the Executive Director’s Office (EDO) of the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program was establishing itself and laying the foundation for the work ahead. While initial technical investigations and study efforts were launched in this period, we focused on primarily developing the administrative structure for the office and the program, for example, establishing the Platte River Recovery Implementation Foundation, developing a detailed land evaluation and acquisition process, obtaining insurance for the program, developing a procurement policy for the program and hiring staff. While all of the Executive Director’s Office is considered administrative, staff efforts are largely focused on providing technical and organizational support for the planning and implementation of land, water and adaptive management activities of the program. Besides providing direct technical services, program staff also provide the technical support, oversight and direction to all program contractors. With the administrative and technical support foundation laid, we shifted focus and moved forward on implementation of the program objectives and goals.

On May 8, 2008, the president signed into law legislation to implement the federal share of the program as part of the Consolidated Natural Resources Act of 2008. This authorized the federal funding for the program. After federal authorizing legislation, expenditures for land acquisition became the most significant portion of the budget for 2009 and 2010. Significant progress has been made toward reaching the land goal of 10,000 acres. The program to date has acquired approximately 8,000 acres through sponsorship agreements, purchases, leases or perpetual easements. Land acquisition requires basic land management, and the program has developed and implemented land management plans that include activities such as building and repairing of fences, tree clearing, weed spraying and planting of grass. All of these activities are conducted under a good neighbor policy, and the program has maintained both good tenant and good neighbor relationships.

The initial focus of the program water plan has been primarily on developing projects that will retime excess flows and secondarily on the purchase or lease of water currently used primarily for agriculture. In 2010 the program sponsored feasibility studies of two possible surface reservoir sites to investigate the potential for retiming flows from periods of excess to periods of shortage. The sites are Elm Creek Reservoir near the town of Elm Creek and the J-2 Re-Regulating Reservoir near the J-2 Return upstream of Overton. In 2009 the EDO lead a pre-feasibility investigation of storage through recharging the aquifer. This effort has led to the initiation of a feasibility /pilot testing investigation of groundwater recharge in late 2010. The path for developing the necessary water supply is emerging clearly, but much work remains to make it a reality.

Adaptive Management Plan activities in 2009 and 2010 focused on monitoring, research and implementation. Whooping cranes, least terns and piping plovers monitoring was continued in both years. Data was collected in both years on tern and plover foraging habits and in 2010 for the whooping crane telemetry project. Geomorphology and vegetation data, LiDAR data and aerial photography were collected in 2009 and 2010. A 1-D Hydraulic/Sediment Transport Model from North Platte to Chapman was completed. The Plum Creek Complex, Cottonwood Ranch Complex and Elm Creek Complex all saw implementation of adaptive management actions such as clearing of vegetation, roller-packing of nesting areas and construction of off-channel nesting habitat. Program streamflow gages at Lexington and Shelton were operational and collecting data in 2009 for the spring test flow release and for the natural high flows that occurred in the summer of 2010. The Independent Science Advisory Committee and Peer Review panels were also active in both years. In 2010 the Database Management System and new program website ( were implemented and fully operational. Many pieces of information, data, tools and management actions in the field are coming together and setting the stage for full-scale implementation of the adaptive management process.

Public outreach educates and informs the public about the program and program activities through a variety of venues. In 2009 we established a partnership with the Nebraska Nature and Visitor’s Center, a site that had approximately 20,000 visitors in 2009–10. The program sponsored seven events in 2009–10 and we made over 6,600 contacts at program exhibits at various professional conferences and public events. The Executive Director’s Office staff presented on various aspects of the program to a variety of audiences in 2009 and 2010 (36 and 24 presentations, respectively).

While not directly an EDO function, one of the key benefits provided by the program is a streamlined Section 7 Consultation process. To date, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has provided nearly 100 streamlined Section 7 consultations since the program began.


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