The Roundup -

LYIP Awaits Further Environmentalist Research

Sidney's Top Stories of 2015

 

A group of 27 eastern Montana citizens traveled by bus to demonstrate to the court the critical nature of the Intake diverson project. Pictured L to R: Tony Barone, Greg Anderson, Steve Pust, Don Steinbeisser Jr., Leslie Messer, Kristin Kennedy, Tracy Garland, Kim Nollmeyer, Dale Danielson, Katie Dasinger, Mark Iversen, Conrad Conradsen, Russ Fullmer, Hugo Asbeck, Jerry Bergman, Cody Fulton, Brad Franklin, Cathy Kirkpatrick, Mike Francingues, Shane Gorder, Tim Fine, Wade Whiteman, Doug Voll, Scott Staffanson and Greg Breuer.

The Lower Yellowstone Irrigation Project had its plans for the modifications to the weir diversion project put on hold pending more research on the pallid sturgeon, an endangered species which inhabits the Yellowstone River. The purpose of the project was to comply with the Endangered Species Act and address the declining number of pallid sturgeon. After 15 years and millions of dollars spent to study the fish as well as the river, the best course of action seemed to be modifying the rock diversion dam with a concrete weir, equipped with fish notch, and the addition of a fish by-pass channel. The new structures would allow the pallid sturgeon and all other species of fish to easier upstream and downstream passage.

Pallid sturgeons have been observed using natural bypass channels in the same way that they would use the man-made bypass, which will be accessible to the fish even during low water, unlike the natural channel. Biologists with USACE, USFWS, and the Montana Fish and Wildlife Service have all reviewed the proposed plan and given their approval along with independent biological review teams. If nothing is done, studies show that the pallid sturgeon will very likely be extinct by 2018.

However, Defenders of Wildlife and the Natural Resources Defense Council filed a lawsuit against the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), the US Bureau of Reclamation (USBR), and the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), arguing that more research needs to be done to determine if the fish will use the man-made channel. The plaintiffs' alternative irrigation plan would involve electric pumps, despite the fact that the electricity needed for those pumps would create over 1 million pounds of carbon emissions per year. The cost of electricity and maintenance to farmers would be crippling. An injunction hearing was held August 27, 2015 and the Judge blocked any new construction until more research is done to conduct further environmental studies.

The USACE had agreed to fund the $59 million modification project; however, the deadline for using the funding was September 9, 2015. On September 18, 2015 every federal legislator from Montana and North Dakota, showed true leadership by working together, regardless of geographic or political differences, to protect their citizens as well as the endangered pallid sturgeon, and by signing an official letter asking for the protection of the funding for the modifications to the Intake Diversion system.

According to LYIP, their plans haven't changed; they are just on hold, uncertain as to whether or not funding is still available. If not, the cost could fall on those who use the irrigation systems from Intake to the Missouri River. This would affect everyone in the area. The LYIP was established in 1909, turning the desert-like area into usable land for farmers, ranchers, and the general population. The LYIP also allows for creeks and wetlands which provide a habitat to a number of species including the endangered whooping crane.

The LYIP is thankful for all of the support they have received from the Department of Justice, Senators Steve Daines, Jon Tester, John Hoeven, Heidi Heitkamp, and Congress Members Ryan Zinke and Kevin Cramer as well as residents of the area, including 22 declarations of support for the project at Intake. The LYIP is sincerely grateful for the efforts of Richland Economic Development Corp, the Richland County Commissioners, and the City of Sidney for the assistance they provided every step of the way.

 

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