Platte River Recovery Implementation Program News

July 9, 2020

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ( ) in coordination with the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program ( ), plans to implement a “North Platte Chokepoint Test Flow Release” using ( ) water from Lake McConaughy beginning July 13, 2020. The is a cooperative basin-wide program to assist in the recovery of threatened and endangered species in the Platte River including the whooping crane, piping plover, interior least tern, and pallid sturgeon. water is dedicated to instream flow purposes, specifically providing benefits to the threatened and endangered species that are the focus of the ’s actions.

The North Platte “chokepoint” is that reach of the North Platte River extending a few miles on either side of the Highway 83 bridge where the encroachment of invasive phragmites vegetation has significantly reduced the river’s flow capacity at flood stage relative to conditions that were present in the late 1990s when objectives were originally developed. One objective is to achieve a flow of 3,000 cfs at the North Platte chokepoint while remaining below flood stage. The current National Weather Service flood stage for the North Platte River at North Platte is 6.0 feet or about 1,930 cubic feet per second (cfs).

The North Platte chokepoint test flow release will allow the to accomplish two critical tasks:

  1. Test the performance of the State Channel Berm, which was rehabilitated in 2018 and is designed to redirect high flows on the North Platte River away from residential areas along North River Road, particularly near North Washboard Road, and

  2. Collect extensive surface water and groundwater data and visual observations. This information will be reviewed by the National Weather Service to determine if flood stage should be increased to 6.5 feet or about 2,770 cfs. and partners will be on site to collect data and observe river conditions throughout the duration of the test flow release.

Planning for the test flow release was a collaborative effort between stakeholders and local officials, including the Manager (Tom Econopouly), Executive Director (Jason Farnsworth) and staff, Central Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation District ( ), Nebraska Public Power District ( ), National Weather Service, Nebraska Department of Natural Resources, City of North Platte, and Lincoln County Emergency Management. These parties will be in close coordination during the test flow release and will be prepared to scale back or terminate the release if required. The partners will monitor weather as well as water level conditions in and around North Platte to determine if changes to the test flow release implementation plan are needed. The following summarizes current expectations for the North Platte chokepoint test flow release:

  • Currently, flows for the North Platte River at North Platte are at or near flood stage. The flows are associated with operations to meet irrigation and hydropower demands and an ongoing release to meet target flows at Grand Island.

  • Flow releases for the North Platte Chokepoint Test will occur from July 13 through July 29 (17 days).

  • The North Platte River at North Platte is expected to be at or above the current National Weather Service flood stage of 6.0 feet until July 31 because of the North Platte Chokepoint Test.

  • The controlled release of water for the test flow release is designed to evaluate conditions at river stages of 6.0 ft (1,930 cfs), 6.5 ft (2,770 cfs), and 6.75 ft (3,250 cfs), beginning on July 15.

  • The planned stages will occur during the following times:

    • Present – July 18: 6.0 ft

    • July 19 – July 27: 6.5 ft

    • July 28 – July 31: 6.75 ft

  • Flows are not expected to exceed flood stage at any gage on the North Platte River or Platte River other than the North Platte River at North Platte.

The has liability insurance in place in the event of any associated damages related to the implementation of the North Platte chokepoint test flow release. The is committed to the restoration of habitat for threatened and endangered species in the Central Platte River, while at the same time protecting human health and safety and preventing damage to associated land along the river.

Contacts for more information:

Tom Econopouly
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Manager
(303) 236-4484
Thomas_Econopouly@fws.gov

Jason Farnsworth
Executive Director
Platte River Recovery Implementation Program
(308) 237-5728
farnsworthj@headwaterscorp.com

December 30, 2019

WASHINGTON, Dec. 30, 2019 – U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt signed an amendment to the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program Cooperative Agreement, along with the governors of Colorado, Nebraska and Wyoming, committing resources to extend the program through Dec. 31, 2032. The Platte River Recovery Implementation Program utilizes federal- and state-provided financial resources, water and scientific monitoring and research to support and protect four threatened and endangered species that inhabit areas of the Central and Lower Platte rivers in Nebraska while allowing for continued water and hydropower project operations in the Platte River basin.

“This program is truly an important partnership that has been successful because of the broad collaboration between federal and state representatives, water and power users and conservation groups,” said Secretary Bernhardt. “All of these stakeholders working together to help recover imperiled species is critical as new water and power projects are continued and developed in the Platte River Basin.”

The program provides compliance for four species under the Endangered Species Act ( ) for new and existing water-related projects in the Platte River Basin. Examples of existing water related projects include the Bureau of Reclamation’s Colorado Big-Thompson Project on the South Platte River in Colorado and the North Platte Project in Wyoming and Nebraska. 

“Programs like the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program are critical to ensuring that Reclamation is able to deliver water and power in an environmentally and economically sound manner,” said Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman. “This program is a true success story of how stakeholders and government from across state lines can work together for the common good.”

The program began in 2007 and is managed by a governance committee comprised of representatives from Colorado, Nebraska and Wyoming, water users, environmental groups and the Department of the Interior's Bureau of Reclamation and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

“This program is a true success story of how stakeholders and government from across state lines can work together for the common good.”

- Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman

“The Platte River Recovery Implementation Program has brought together three states, environmental groups, water users, and two federal agencies to forge a common goal of balancing existing use with an eye towards recovery for four threatened and endangered species,” said Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon. “This program has ensured that Wyoming continues existing water uses in the South and North Platte River Basins while making measurable contributions to species recovery.”

“The signing of the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program Cooperative Agreement Amendment marks the celebration of more than a decade of success,” said Colorado Governor Jared Polis. “The commitment by the states and the U.S. Department of the Interior to continue the program’s innovative approach to species recovery and Endangered Species Act compliance is a win-win for the future of Colorado’s citizens and the environment. We look forward to the next 13 years working with our partners to lead in this national model of collaboration.” 

“Agriculture is Nebraska’s number one industry. Extending the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program gives Nebraska’s ag producers certainty around water and land use in the coming years,” said Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts. “We appreciate the collaboration we enjoy with the other states who are party to this agreement, and we look forward to working with them in the coming years.” 

The estimated total value of federal and state contributions to the program during the first extension is $156 million. The U.S. Department of the Interior will provide one half of the funding necessary for the extension, which will be matched by states through contributions of non-federal funding and water from state-sponsored projects that is provided for the benefit of target threatened and endangered species.

 

December 29, 2019

Each summer the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program (Program) and its partners survey the river and off-channel nesting habitat to document least tern and piping plover abundance and productivity within the ( ) for the Program. Monitoring typically occurs from 1 May – 1 August; however, the monitoring season has been extended when least terns or piping plovers are known to be within the outside of this range of dates.

Similar to previous years, there was a good distribution of nests across off-channel sand and water (OCSW) and sandpit sites throughout the , but no in-channel nesting was observed during 2019. The number of breeding pairs observed during 2019 was high and comparable to other years that the Program did not add any more off-channel nesting habitat. This season was a moderately successful year for least tern nests as 51% (67 of 132) of least tern nests hatched. Piping plover nests were moderately successful as well with 52% (31 of 60) of nests hatching. However, chick success for both species was poor, largely due to predation and major flooding, both factors that also affected nest success.  The overall fledge ratio for least terns was 0.75 fledglings per breeding pair, which was an all-time low since 2007.  Piping Plovers had an overall fledge ratio of 0.67 fledglings per breeding pair in 2019, which was slightly higher than in 2018. 

Least tern and piping plover breeding pair counts and productivity, 2001-2019.

Breeding pair counts for both species have increased steadily since 2009 when the Program began acquiring and restoring off-channel nesting sites (top plot). Fledge ratios for least terns (middle plot) were at an all-time low during 2019. The plots show a 3-year running average that smooths out the curve, allowing us to better observe trends, so this all-time low is not visible in the plot. Piping plover fledge ratios have shown a decline in the past few years, though their fledge ratio for 2019 was slightly higher than in 2018 (bottom plot). Once again, this is not obvious in the plot as it represents a running average.