The Platte River Recovery Implementation Program is one of the most useful tools that we have to protect the river for wildlife and people into the future. This program was adopted in 2007 to meet the needs of threatened and endangered Whooping Cranes, Least Terns, Piping Plovers, and Pallid Sturgeons as well as water users. After 10 years of negotiations between Nebraska, Colorado, Wyoming, the federal government and water stakeholders, a basin-wide management plan was devised. This group included Audubon as a voice for the river and wildlife.
By 1997, seventy percent of the water had been diverted before it reached Central Nebraska and ninety percent of the wide-open channels the birds need had been lost. Water battles have been frequent and come in many forms costing millions. Through every battle, Audubon has given a voice to the river and to finding sustainable solutions.
The program has been tasked with protecting 10 thousand acres of land and adding 130 to 150 thousand acre-feet of water to the river at designated times for the target species in the central Platte region. The land goal has been met with 12 thousand acres protected and managed but the water goal has fallen short. Overall, the program has 8 out of 10 benchmarks successfully met. However, with the first 13-year appropriation coming to a close, more time is needed to meet the water goals and satisfy the Endangered Species Act regulations.
An extension has been requested from Congress so goals can be met. Without the extension, endangered and threatened species on the Platte River are at greater risk. Irrigators, cities, and wildlife on the Platte River depend on this program for the future. It is estimated that the program has saved the states over $400 million in the last 13 years.
Bills S.990 and H.R.3237 have been introduced in the House and Senate. All governors have signed and all senators in Colorado, Wyoming, and Nebraska, except Ben Sasse, have written letters of support.
It is imperative that the House and Senate hear from you that this program is important and must be extended and funded for the future of the Platte and the cranes.