The Roundup -

LYIP Requests Evidence of Environmental Benefits of Irrigation


Lower Yellowstone Irrigation Project and its connecting districts, Savage Irrigation District and Intake Irrigation District have filed a motion to intervene as defendants in the lawsuit filed by Defenders of Wildlife and the Natural Resources Defense Council against the US Army Corps of Engineers, the US Bureau of Reclamation and the US Fish and Wildlife Service in order to ensure protection of their important property and financial interests. The lawsuit targets the planned fish passage project at Intake as well as the continued operation and maintenance of the LYIP, specifically at the Intake Diversion on the Yellowstone River.

The lawsuit states that not enough study has been completed to guarantee passage of the pallid sturgeon, which is on the endangered species list. After 15 years, during which over $100 million was granted by the USACE to various entities to study the pallid sturgeon and the river, the USACE has now agreed to spend another $59 million on what the studies show to be the best solution to improve fish passage while not endangering the farmers.

The proposed concrete weir with fish notch would replace the 100 plus year old rock diversion dam, which is above the water during low flows, with a structure that would always have water flowing over it to allow downstream passage of the pallid sturgeon and all the other species in the Yellowstone. “Anyone familiar with the existing dam will recognize that the new design is better for the fish,” stated LYIP manager James Brower. “By putting in the fish notch, there will always be water for the fish, even when there isn’t enough for irrigation during the lowest river flows.” The proposed concrete weir is not a rectangle sticking out of the water; it is a shaped hump which allows a continuous flow of water.

Brower also stated that the lawsuit is doing the opposite of what the plaintiffs wish to accomplish. The lawsuit is stopping progress on what the plaintiffs say the USACE, USBR and USFWS are not doing. Studies show that the wild pallid sturgeon may be extinct by 2018 if nothing is done. By filing the lawsuit, the plaintiffs are almost ensuring that nothing can be done in time to save the sturgeon.

Biologists with USFWS, USACE, MTFWS, as well as an independent biological review team have extensively evaluated the proposed plan and given their approval.

The lawsuit contends that creating a new artificial bypass is not beneficial to the sturgeon. However, the new bypass mimics the best natural bypasses that pallid sturgeon have been observed using, and is guaranteed to have 15% of the river water down to minimum flows. The existing natural bypass is only useful during high water, for minimal days and not every year.

The lawsuit is concerned with the effects of the Intake Diversion on the pallid sturgeon. However, LYIP which turned the desert area of eastern Montana and western North Dakota into an oasis in 1909, has provided wetlands, riparian areas and creeks which are home to a multitude of species including the endangered whooping crane which shelters and feeds here during its migration. Without the irrigation project, the area will eventually return to its arid state.

The plaintiffs’ plan for irrigation includes the use of pumps to accomplish what gravity does so efficiently and cleanly now. The generation of enough electricity to power those pumps would discharge over 1.5 million lbs. of carbon emissions every year, which would adversely affect all species including those on the endangered list.

The cost to farmers would be financially unfeasible with the cost of necessary maintenance including rebuilding pumps and motors and being even more devastating than the electrical cost. Also, a pump site requires annual dredging, with unknown effects to the river and the wildlife.

What is desperately needed to support the LYIP in defending the lawsuit is evidence of the wide-ranging benefits of the project including pictures of whooping cranes, which are large white birds with a red top and brown mustache. Articles which support irrigation and agriculture benefits to wildlife and its habitat are also needed. Evidence documenting the well known recharging of the local aquifers which go down when irrigation is reduced is also important.

Millions of dollars and fifteen years of study have shown that the current proposal is the best for the pallid sturgeon and for the continuation of LYIP, which is the lifeblood of this area.

Please contact James Brower at LYIP with any documentation or photos you may have, or if you have questions about the project. LYIP is located at 2327 S. Lincoln Ave., Sidney. The phone number is 406-433-1306.


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