KEARNEY — Legislation to extend the first phase of the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program for another 13 years has been introduced in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.

The inaugural 13-year increment expires Dec. 31, 2019, and the extension is proposed through 2032.

“They’re looking to schedule hearings in both (chambers) later this month and into July,” PRRIP Executive Director Jason Farnsworth told the Hub this morning.

The innovative program involves the U.S. Department of Interior, the three Platte Basin states — Nebraska, Colorado and Wyoming — and stakeholders that include irrigators and environmental organizations in a basinwide effort to meet water and land habitat needs for four species listed as threatened or endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act.

The species are whooping cranes, least terns and piping plovers in Nebraska’s Central Platte River and pallid sturgeon on the Lower Platte.

Farnsworth said Senate bill S990 was introduced April 2 by Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso and House bill HR3237 was introduced Wednesday by Colorado Rep. Joe Neguse.

The House bill already has nine co-sponsors — all three Nebraska congressmen and six in addition to Neguse from Colorado. Farnsworth said there could be more co-sponsors as the bill advances.

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The Senate bill’s current co-sponsors are both senators from Colorado and Wyoming, and Nebraska Sen. Deb Fischer. When asked about Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse, Farnsworth said Platte Program officials are continuing discussions with him.

Farnsworth expects that state representatives and perhaps some water users and environmental groups will testify at the House and Senate hearings.

In a June 6 letter to the chairs and ranking members of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources and House Committee on Natural Resources, Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis and Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon described the Platte Program as “a marquee example of a proactive, collaborative approach to providing benefits for endangered species and their habitats while allowing for the beneficial use of our states’ waters.”

They added, “This good work needs to continue, both for the benefit of the species and our economies.”

Farnsworth said program extension support also is strong within the Department of Interior.

Building a basin program

The Platte Basin’s many federal, state and local water interests have worked together for many years to initiate and develop the program.

Work started in July 1997 under a cooperative agreement. The goal was to develop a plan that would allow all entities in the basin with federal licenses, permits or funding — including Nebraska Public Power District and Central Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation District — to comply with the Endangered Species Act.

Without the plan, each entity would have to meet individual compliance standards.

A final program agreement was signed by the Interior Department secretary and governors in late 2006.

Extension goals

The focus for the extension is to complete the first increment’s water goal to reduce shortages in annual Platte River target flows for key habitat areas by an average of 130,000-150,000 acre-feet.

A staff report presented at the March governance committee meeting at the PRRIP headquarters office in Kearney estimated that from 2018 to 2032, existing projects will total 112,605 a-f of that reduction goal at a cost of $66.9 million.

Potential future projects could boost the total to 129,305 a-f at an additional cost of $35.1 million.

Farnsworth has said immediate goals for the extension period will be to reduce target flow shortages by 120,000 a-f and use scientific studies to determine if the additional 10,000 a-f is necessary to meet the protected species’ habitat needs.

The other major PRRIP habitat goal to protect, restore and/or maintain at least 10,000 land acres in bridge segment complexes between Lexington and Chapman has been met.

However, program staff continue to review owned properties to determine if they are achieving desired results and watch for other land to buy that might better fit the mission.

The first increment extension agreement says an additional 1,000 habitat acres will be acquired or otherwise protected.

Farnsworth has said those acres will be a hedge against any losses of acres under leases or management agreements.

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