Audubon Nebraska Fighting to Keep the Platte River Flowing

Audubon Nebraska is fighting to stop a water diversion of 33 million gallons annually from the Platte River. A proposal by Lower Republican Natural Resource District (NRD), Tri-Basins NRD, and Central Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation District seeks to remove water from the Platte River and transfer it to the Republican River in order to fulfill a water debt to Kansas. If passed, it would be the first inter-basin water transfer in Nebraska and will set a dangerous precedent.

Platte River water availability is already highly regulated and combative. The Platte River flows from Wyoming to Colorado, through Nebraska, where it provides habitat for threatened and endangered species, specifically Piping Plovers, Whooping Cranes and the pallid sturgeon. In addition, each spring the river supports hundreds of thousands of Sandhill Cranes, Snow Geese, and other water birds in one of the greatest migration spectacles on Earth. Currently, 70 percent of the historic Platte River flows are now gone before they get to the Central Platte River, which translates to a 90 percent loss of the historical open channel habitat needed for birds.

Tension between states and water users began decades ago. The Platte River Recovery Implementation Program (PRRIP) was created to specifically address conflict between water withdrawals and Endangered Species Act requirements between Nebraska, Colorado, and Wyoming and the federal government. Audubon has been working on PRRIP for the last 10 years with the goal to improve flows in the Platte River by 130,000 to 150,000 acre-feet per year, but there has not yet been a single year where there has been enough water to meet PRRIP’s mission. Additionally, just downstream of this proposed diversion, the Platte River is officially designated as “over-appropriated” by the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources. Despite work to improve flows and regulation to prevent overuse, the Platte River may see more water leave its banks.

Audubon Nebraska has filed a notice of legal standing and a formal objection to the Department of Natural Resources regarding this water transfer proposal. Along with Audubon Nebraska, six water stakeholders filed formal legal objections, and an additional 90 objections were filed by citizens of Nebraska and Kansas, including the Governor of Kansas. The numerous objections were in large part a result of requests to Audubon chapters, coupled with letters to local papers by Audubon Nebraska asking for help.

The group making the application has filed a motion to dismiss all of the legal objections and filings for legal standing. Audubon is now working on a brief to defend our position.