From: Nate Jenkins, Associated Press
Published November 1, 2006 12:00 AM

Nebraska Governor Signs River Agreement He Says Also Protects Farmers

LINCOLN, Neb. — Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman has signed a three-state plan to protect the habitats of endangered species along the Platte River while at the same time sheltering growers from federal action.

Heineman signed the Platte River Cooperative Agreement on Tuesday after Colorado Gov. Bill Owens signed the agreement last week. Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal has not signed the agreement.

"We have a rare opportunity to work with water users and the environmental community to achieve federal objectives for the Endangered Species Act while respecting the need to preserve each of our states' agricultural economies," Heineman wrote in the letter to the two other governors and the U.S. Department of the Interior.

The plan is designed to help guide Platte River Basin entities including farmers and ranchers to comply with the Endangered Species Act while retaining their access to federal water, land and funding.

The plan would protect the habitats along the river for the whooping crane, piping plover, interior least tern and pallid sturgeon but also give farmers some protection from federal action.

The river recovery plan called for in the agreement includes acquiring land for wildlife habitat in Nebraska and increasing river flows at key times.

Some groundwater irrigators see the plan as a government attack on their livelihoods and on rural communities because it could take thousands of irrigated acres out of production.

However, the Central Platte Natural Resources District, a public body that manages the irrigation-heavy area and strongly opposes the deal, does not plan on challenging the agreement, said manager Ron Bishop.

The plan will cost about $317 million, with $157 million coming from the Interior Department and the rest from the three states in cash, land and water. Federal dollars have not yet received final approval.

Colorado plans to pitch in $24 million in cash, and Wyoming $6 million in cash. Nebraska doesn't have to pay any cash.

The remaining $130 million for the plan is being contributed with water and land credits: The three states must together contribute 80,000 acre-feet of water, an estimated $120 million value, and Wyoming and Nebraska will contribute about 26,500 acres of land, a $10 million value.

A spokeswoman for Freudenthal said he is reviewing the agreement and has not yet made a decision. "There's probably no overwhelming reason for him not to sign it," said spokeswoman Lara Azar.

Source: Associated Press

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