What's Next for LYIP?
Rocking permit needed immediately.
Record crowds of supporters of the Lower Yellowstone Irrigation Project (LYIP) attended the public meetings in Glendive and Sidney hosted by the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) last week. Both venues were changed from cafeterias to gymnasiums to accommodate the 500 plus people in Glendive and 400 plus in Sidney. In conversations after the meetings, LYIP manager James Brower was told they were the largest endangered species public meetings ever seen by USACE or BOR. He expressed his deepest gratitude to everyone who worked so hard to disseminate information, secure bus transportation, provide food, and especially for attending the meetings. He also stated Monday that the record crowds have already resulted in federal and state agency leaders calling with positive support of the project and the permit.
The meetings started with presentations by the Bureau and Corps explaining the proposed project at Intake, the process that led to their recommendations, and the biology of the pallid sturgeon.
The proposed project involves constructing a 6' concrete weir, with a gentle rocked slope downstream and a steeper rock slope upstream, using existing rock. The concrete weir would stop the need for rocking which LYIP has reliably done for over 100 years to protect the wooden diversion and to ensure reliable irrigation water during low flows. A fish bypass is also proposed on Joe's Island to provide passage for the pallid sturgeon which is on the endangered species list.
As biologists explained it, the pallid sturgeon requires more river miles than it currently has to allow effective spawning and drifting of the larval so it can mature enough to survive when it reaches the silty waters at the head of Lake Sakakawea. The proposed fish bypass would provide calmer waters for the pallid sturgeon to go upstream past Intake and give the larval an additional 165 miles of open river to float back down.
At the Glendive meeting, it was revealed by a shocked James Brower that funding for the project was no longer available for fiscal 2014 as he had been told previously. At the Sidney public meeting, USACE further explained the funding process. According to project manager Chris Fassaro, the dollars which had been allocated were returned to the Corps when the committee realized that the deadlines for project development could not be met. By returning the funding to the Corps headquarters, they are very confident it will be returned to finance the Intake project. Otherwise, the money would have gone to the Treasury Department and been lost.
The needed funds are in the Presidential budget but will need to be appropriated by Congress. If project approval is given and if funding is approved, construction would start in 2015. Continued pressure on state and national politicians, as well as the Corps, US Fish & Wildlife, and the Bureau of Reclamation is needed to ensure the project and its funding.
The USACE outlined their time line for the project with the study completed in October 2014, contract award in March 2015 and project completion in December 2016.
After the formal presentation, countless individuals and entities expressed their support of the proposed concrete weir and fish bypass. Perhaps the shortest presentation came from state representative Scott Staffanson who echoed the sentiments of the vast majority when he said, "We're feeding PEOPLE for God's sake. Get it done!"
After the meeting, Bureau of Reclamation and USACE personnel were on hand to answer any individual questions.
In the meantime, LYIP is not allowed to rock the diversion dam as it has for over 100 years. Although it had never been necessary previously, LYIP was told it needed a permit. The permit was applied for last July but has still not been received. The flooding and ice jams this past March pushed the existing rock off the dam, leaving the wooden structure subject to damage. The rocking is essential to protect the structure and provide reliable irrigation water during the hot months of summer.
Cathy Juhas is processing the permit application for the Corps Regulatory division, which has the authority to issue the rocking permit. Contact her at 406-657-5910 or email her at [email protected]. to make your concerns known about reliable irrigation water and the potential effects on the economy if that permit is not approved immediately, and for the period until the new diversion is completed. Traditionally, the rocking is done in July. LYIP needs about a month to mine the needed rock and place it on the dam. According to Mike Backes with MTFWP in Miles City, a MT DEQ permit is also needed.