Platte River Restoration Efforts

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May 12, 2021
Platte River Restoration Efforts
compliance with Section 7 under the ESA for certain
The Platte River system, located in the states of Colorado,
existing and future water operations activities in each state.
Nebraska, and Wyoming, supports 15 major dams and
This program, created in 2007, is the Platte River Recovery
reservoirs, which provide water, hydroelectric power,
Implementation Program (PRRIP).
irrigation, flood control, and recreation for about 3.5
million people, as well as habitat for fish and wildlife.
The PRRIP covers the north, south, and central Platte Basin
Figure 1. Platte River Basin
(Figure 1). The program’s purpose is to implement portions
of the FWS recovery plans for target species habitat. To do
this, the PRRIP has three main elements: (1) increasing
flows in the central Platte River during certain periods;
(2) protecting and restoring habitat for target bird species;
and (3) accommodating new water-related activities (e.g.,
water storage, diversions, and conservation). These
elements are addressed in three plans, each with a set of
goals and milestones.
 The Water Plan aims to improve flows and maintain
habitat for all target species in the central Platte River
area through incentive-based water projects that provide
an additional 130,000-150,000 acre-feet (af) per year

toward target flows for the environment, which FWS
Source: U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Platte River Recovery
previously established. (These improvements generally
Implementation Program, 2018, adapted by CRS.
are known as reduced target flow shortages.)

Irrigation in the Platte River system was developed in the
The Land Plan aims to protect and, where appropriate,
early 1970s. After passage of the Endangered Species Act
restore 10,000 acres of habitat during the PRRIP’s First
(ESA) in 1973, several species from the region were listed
Increment. The Land Plan’s long-term objective is to
as endangered or threatened. As a result, water conveyance
acquire, restore, and maintain 29,000 acres of habitat for
infrastructure in the system was subject to Section 7
listed species along the central Platte River.
consultation under the ESA. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife

Service (FWS) consulted with federal agencies managing
The Adaptive Management Plan provides a systematic
projects in the Platte River to determine how projects could
process to monitor the implementation and measure the
operate without harming federally listed species. FWS
success of PRRIP activities. It applies the information
found that some federal actions that depleted flows in the
learned to improve management decisions and the
Platte River were likely to jeopardize one or more listed
survival of all species and to avoid impacts to species’
species (i.e., target species), including the endangered
whooping crane, endangered pallid sturgeon, threatened
piping plover, and formerly listed interior least tern. The
The PRRIP is being implemented through the central
challenges between implementing hydropower-related
Governance Committee, which oversees program staff and
projects and conserving species listed under the ESA
other combined federal and state efforts (Figure 2). The
ultimately led to an agreement among stakeholders.
program is to be conducted in “increments.” The First
Increment initially covered a 13-year period, from 2007
In 1997, the Secretary of the Interior (Secretary) and the
through 2019. This increment was extended for another 13
governors of Nebraska, Colorado, and Wyoming signed the
years, through December 2032, with some changes to the
Cooperative Agreement for Platte River Research and
plans. Subsequent increments are to be implemented
Other Efforts Relating to Endangered Species Habitat
through cooperative agreements between the Secretary and
Along the Central Platte River, Nebraska. Under the
the governors.
agreement, a Governance Committee was created—made
Federal Role
up of 10 voting members, including the signatories, water
users, FWS, the Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation), and
The Consolidated Natural Resources Act of 2008 (P.L. 110-
environmental groups. The committee was charged with
229, Title V, §515) authorized the Secretary, acting through
creating a program to improve and maintain the habitat of
Reclamation and in cooperation with states and federal
the four target species on the Platte River and to ensure
agencies, to implement the PPRIP’s First Increment from

Platte River Restoration Efforts
2008 to 2020. The law authorized $157.1 million to be
input, Reclamation released the final environmental and
appropriated to the PRRIP under the condition that any
biological assessment in 2018. The extension was formally
unexpended funds at the end of each fiscal year be retained
executed by the signatories on December 30, 2019,
for use in future fiscal years. In 2019, Congress extended
following enactment of P.L. 116-94. The extension
the Secretary’s authorization to participate in the program
maintains the First Increment objectives and adds an
through 2033 and authorized an additional $78 million in
additional 1,500 acres to the land target, while decreasing
federal appropriations (P.L. 116-94).
the water target to 120,000 af per year in reduced target
flows. During the extension, the PRRIP aims to conduct
P.L. 116-94 authorized the Secretary to (1) enter into
monitoring and research to determine if the reduction to the
agreements and contracts with federal and nonfederal
program’s water goals is justified by science.
entities; (2) acquire interests in land, water, and facilities
from willing sellers without the use of eminent domain; (3)
The status of one of the target species, the interior least
transfer any such interests; and (4) accept or provide grants.
tern, changed under the ESA; the interior least was delisted
FWS and Reclamation participate in the PRRIP by serving
from the ESA due to recovery on February 12, 2021. It is
on the Governance Committee, administering funds,
unclear how the delisting will affect the PRRIP. After a
managing projects, and measuring water flow targets. The
species is delisted, the ESA requires FWS, in cooperation
law requires a 50:50 cost share between the federal
with the states in which the species is found, to monitor the
government and the states responsible for implementing the
species’ status for at least five years.
PRRIP. Under the law, state contributions are to consist of
$28 million in additional funding, plus contributions of land
Issues for Congress
or water that may be credited toward the program’s total
Implementation of the PRRIP regularly receives attention
cost share. Including authorized inflationary increases, the
during congressional oversight and the annual
total authorized amount of federal funding for the PRRIP
appropriations process. Congress would have to authorize
was approximately $263.1 million as of FY2020.
any changes to program implementation prior to the
termination of the First Increment in 2033 or work for
Figure 2. PRRIP Governance Structure
subsequent increments.
Concerns over implementing the PRRIP include not
meeting the First Increment water goals, as discussed, and
not finishing a reservoir project in Nebraska, which was
projected to contribute 30,600 af per year toward the
program’s reduced target flow shortage goal. To address
these concerns, PRRIP leaders shifted from the single
reservoir project to several smaller ones, which are
estimated to contribute 40,000 af by 2024 or 2025. A
proposal for an interbasin transfer of water from the Platte
River to the Republican River in Nebraska has amplified
these concerns. Some stakeholders argue the transfer may
diminish the Platte River’s capacity to provide needed
water supplies within the basin. Proponents of the transfer
contend that only excess flows will be diverted.
The western United States is experiencing a drought during
the first half of 2021. Congress might consider how the
drought may affect PRRIP implementation and whether
changing activities under the program is warranted. Further,

the PRRIP is being implemented incrementally, which may
Source: Adapted by CRS based on Platte River Recovery
lead Congress to question how long the recovery program
will take to complete and how much funding it will require.
Note: ISAC is the Integrated Science Advisory Committee.
Lastly, some stakeholders might question the efficacy of the
current adaptive management process and whether the
Progress of the PRRIP Program
process is robust enough to address unforeseen
circumstances related to climate change and changes in bird
During the First Increment, the PRRIP achieved 8 of its 10
populations and habitat. To date, there has been no major
milestones, including surpassing the 10,000-acre land
outside review of the PRRIP. Nonetheless, the program has
acquisition milestone and completing a full cycle of
not received significant criticism, and its supporters point to
adaptive management. The milestones the PRRIP did not
it as a model for governing ecosystem restoration. Congress
meet related to its water objective of reduced target flow
may consider oversight of the program, including some
shortages of 130,000-150,000 af. The PRRIP provides for
type of outside review, to address these and other questions.
approximately 110,000 af per year toward this objective.
Charles V. Stern, Specialist in Natural Resources Policy
In 2016, the Governance Committee agreed to a proposal
Pervaze A. Sheikh, Specialist in Natural Resources Policy
for a 13-year project extension (from 2020 to 2032) to meet
the First Increment milestones. After scoping stakeholder

Platte River Restoration Efforts

Anna E. Normand, Analyst in Natural Resources Policy

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