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The Governance Committee of the Platte River Cooperative Agreement

Program Components: How the Agreement and Program Work

Q: What is the Cooperative Agreement?

A: The Cooperative Agreement is a three-year agreement signed by the governors of Wyoming, Colorado and Nebraska, and by the Secretary of the Interior to address the needs of four threatened or endangered species using the central Platte River region by developing and implementing a Recovery Implementation Program.

Q: What is the “proposed Program”?

A: The Cooperative Agreement proposes a framework for a long-term Recovery Implementation Program to aid endangered species. During the Cooperative Agreement, the details of the framework are being filled in and the federal government is doing formal environmental reviews. To continue on after the Cooperative Agreement, a final Program will need to be adopted.

Q: What formal environmental reviews are in progress?

A: The Department of the Interior (the Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) is preparing an Environmental Impact Statement which looks at effects of the proposed Program and other alternatives. The Environmental Impact Statement will examine the proposed Program and other options and recommend a “preferred alternative” to the Secretary of the Interior, which may differ from the proposed Program. The Interior Department’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is doing a formal Endangered Species Act review to confirm that the proposed Program meets the requirements of the Act.

Q: What if the Environmental Impact Statement’s “preferred alternative” is not supported by the states?

A: The three states and Interior will negotiate. The “preferred alternative” is not binding on the Secretary. Even if the “preferred alternative” is the same as the proposed Program, additional negotiations over details are likely before a basin-wide Program can begin. As a practical matter, however, negotiations are much less likely to be successful if the “preferred alternative” is substantially different from the proposed Program.

Q: Who makes the final decision on the alternative adopted as the Program?

A: Each of the four principal parties (the states of Colorado, Nebraska and Wyoming, and the Department of the Interior) must agree to the Program as it is finally developed and the FWS must conclude it is an appropriate way to meet the requirements of the Endangered Species Act. The support of water users, environmental groups and others would make state and federal agreement more likely. Most, if not all, interested parties will need to support the Program for it to have a realistic chance of success.

Q: What if one of the states doesn’t agree to the final Program?

A: There will be no Program. The other states might attempt to develop state by state programs, but there is no guarantee that such programs would be acceptable to the Department of the Interior.

Q: What happens if a Program isn’t signed after the Cooperative Agreement period?

A: There would likely be no cooperative, basinwide approach for resolving endangered species issues related to the central Platte River. Endangered Species Act consultations between the FWS and federal agencies considering permits, licenses, approval or funding for water projects would go back to full-blown project-by-project proceedings. In addition, earlier consultations that relied on having a Program — including the Nebraska Public Power District’s and the Central Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation District’s hydroelectric licenses — would be reinitiated and new requirements could be added. Time-consuming and confrontational proceedings would be likely.

Q: Will the final Program require a binding agreement among the parties when it is implemented?

A: No. A new agreement will be signed, but will not be legally binding. A Program can only be initiated and continue if each of the signatories (the three states and the Department of Interior) believes that a Program is in its best interest.

Q: Will the Program continue if any signatory party withdraws?

A: Maybe. Any signatory can withdraw at any time and the Program as it is now designed will end. But whether or not the remaining parties could continue to meet their Endangered Species Act obligations by continuing Program activities would have to be decided at that time.

Q: Who is in charge of the Cooperative Agreement and Program?

A: There is a ten-member Governance Committee in charge. It consists of one member from the FWS; one from the Bureau of Reclamation, which operates several dams in the basin; one member each from Wyoming, Colorado and Nebraska; one water user member each from Colorado, from the North Platte River upstream of Lake McConaughy and downstream of Lake McConaughy; and two environmental organization members.

Q: How are decisions made in the Governance Committee?

A: Any policy decision must have the support of all the state and federal representatives and all but one of the total membership. Administrative decisions must have the support of all state and federal representatives and all but three of the total membership. As a practical matter, for the Cooperative Agreement and Program to work, the Governance Committee must operate by consensus.

Q: If participants disagree on science or its interpretation, how are the differences resolved?

A: The parties hope that with a cooperative Program in place, which uses “adaptive management” to factor in new information, differences will be resolved less from arguing and more from learning together as successes and failures are observed. Existing and new scientific studies will also be “peer reviewed,” which means they will be reviewed by independent scientists who are also experts on the subject at issue. In the end, compromise can be expected as long as each party still believes that a Program is better than not having a Program.

Q: What limit is there to adaptive management? Can’t the Fish and Wildlife Service just keep coming back and saying that more water is needed? How does this provide certainty for water users?

A: During the proposed Program’s first increment, as long as Program milestones are being met, the FWS can’t come back and demand more. For the long run, the check on the FWS is the Governance Committee and the signatories to the Program. The FWS must identify goals that it can convince the others to agree to, or there can be no Program. Terminating the Program would cost the FWS the flexibility and cooperation which the Program alone provides.

Q: Does the proposed Program invite a federal presence in the basin that would not otherwise exist?

A: No. The federal government was active in many individual proceedings long before attempts to design a Program. Measures to benefit endangered species will be part of the Platte River Basin in the future, whether or not there is a Program. The Cooperative Agreement and proposed Program offer a forum that would not otherwise exist to coordinate the actions of different agencies, and a chance for them to hear from people who might not be able to participate in project-by-project proceedings. The states believe that a Program will actually reduce the federal presence in water matters by easing federal permitting of existing water projects and putting mitigation for new ones under a state program.

Q: Where can the general public make its views known and obtain information on the latest developments?

A: The general public can make its views known and obtain information on the Cooperative Agreement and Program by contacting Governance Committee members and subcommittee chairs, attending committee meetings, contacting Dale Strickland, the Governance Committee’s Executive Director (toll-free phone number: (877) 634-1773), or checking the Governance Committee’s website at https://www.platteriverprogram.org/.