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Implementing the Endangered Species Act on the Platte Basin Water Commons

By David M. Freeman

Publication Year: 2010

Water users of the Platte River Basin have long struggled to share this scarce commodity in the arid high plains, ultimately organizing collectively owned and managed water systems, allocating water along extensive stream systems, and integrating newer groundwater with existing surface-water uses. In 1973, the Endangered Species Act brought a new challenge: incorporating the habitat needs of four species-the whooping crane, piping plover, least tern, and pallid sturgeon-into its water-management agenda. Implementing the Endangered Species Act on the Platte Basin Water Commons tells of the negotiations among the U.S. Department of the Interior, the environmental community, and the states of Wyoming, Colorado, and Nebraska that took place from the mid-1970s to 2006. Ambitious talks among rival water users, environmentalists, state authorities, and the Department of the Interior finally resulted in the Platte River Habitat Recovery Program. Documenting how organizational interests found remedies within the conditions set by the Endangered Species Act, describing how these interests addressed habitat restoration, and advancing sociological propositions under which water providers transcended self-interest and produced an agreement benefiting the environment, this book details the messy process that took place over more than thirty years. Presenting important implications for the future of water management in arid and semi-arid environments, this book will be of interest to anyone involved in water management, as well as academics interested in the social organization of common property.

Published by: University Press of Colorado

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. vii-ix

Figures and Maps

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pp. xi


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pp. xiii


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pp. xv-xvi

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pp. xvii-xviii

How does an environmental agenda, at the river basin scale, become incorporated into a typical western utilitarian water allocation system? Here is the detailed story of complex negotiations regarding habitat restoration on behalf of four species...

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pp. xix-xxi

Water is a social organizational phenomenon, and thereby invites sociological analysis, because people need to control water in ways that simply cannot be produced by individual action. When water diverted from a river to a canal hits a crop root...

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pp. xxiii-xxiv

The many facets of water humble me. I am frequently astounded by how much I have to learn in order to grasp how little I know. This project has been made possible by the assistance and goodwill of many people who have lived and breathed Platte Basin water...

Part 1: Introduction

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pp. 1-26

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1: Problem and Significance

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pp. 3-10

In a moment utterly without drama, on October 24, 2006, negotiators representing Colorado, Nebraska, Wyoming, the environmental community, and the United States Department of the Interior—each of whom had struggled for years in Platte River...

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2: Change on the River

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pp. 11-26

The waters of the Platte River Basin are among the most intensively exploited on the planet. By the time the South Platte River meets the North Platte to form the main stem, both tributaries have been harnessed repeatedly for the utilitarian needs of industrial...

Part 2: Social Construction of the Crisis

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pp. 27-62

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3: Into a Federal Nexus

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pp. 29-35

The ecological problem became a social organizational and political problem by virtue of the legal mandate encoded in the Endangered Species Act (ESA) of 1973. Degraded habitats for whooping cranes, piping plovers, least terns, and the pallid sturgeon...

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4: Colorado in a Federal Nexus: Defending the Water Tower

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pp. 37-46

Citizens of this headwaters state, the most urbanized in the Missouri Basin, have constructed a hydraulic society that lives off a fraction of snowpack runoff for a brief period each spring and a small amount of warm-season precipitation. They know...

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5: Nebraska in a Federal Nexus: Threat to the Big House

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pp. 47-53

Nebraska is the place where the arid West begins. Two-thirds of its length falls on the western side of the 98th meridian, the fixed marker of a variable point—shifting from wet to dry years—that defines precipitation of twenty inches a year or less. Nebraska farmers...

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6: Wyoming in a Federal Nexus: Defending the Mountaintop

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pp. 55-62

Wyoming’s North Platte water users have been in a relationship with the federal government and the mandates of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) because they have been beneficiaries of federal dams, reservoirs, river diversions, and canals that capture...

Part 3: Initiating Negotiations

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pp. 63-90

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7: Options: Individual Consultations, Litigation, or Constructing a Cooperative Program

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pp. 65-73

The drafting of the U.S. Constitution was an occasion for struggling with the vexing question of how to balance power between states and the federal government. Federalism as a system of dual sovereignty was cobbled together on a fundamental...

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8: Organization of Negotiations

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pp. 75-90

Following the signing of the 1994 Memorandum of Agreement (MOA), the Department of the Interior’s (DOI) assistant secretary of water and science was appointed to lead the federal negotiation team. The governors of each of the three states appointed...

Part 4: Negotiating Interests

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pp. 91-143

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9: Colorado’s Interests

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pp. 93-108

In defense of their water tower and to assemble their contribution to a habitat recovery program, Colorado’s South Platte water providers configured their designs to fit the fundamental realities of their situation. They needed to preserve the integrity...

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10: Nebraska’s Interests

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pp. 109-125

The buildup of return flows that sustained successively lower-elevation irrigation canals on Colorado’s South Platte and Wyoming’s North Platte were longer in coming to western Nebraska, and they were more modest in quantity. Many Nebraska farmers...

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11: Wyoming’s Interests

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pp. 127-138

A federal agency, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), was on the prowl for 417,000 acre feet per year with which to fulfill its central Platte River target flow aspirations in Nebraska. Another federal agency, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation...

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12: States, Federal Agencies, and the Water Plan

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pp. 139-143

Representatives of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (USBR)–environmental impact statement (EIS) team were engaged in continual discussions with each other, the states, environmentalists...

Part 5: Politics and the Roles of Science

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pp. 145-195

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13: Defining Success: Science as a Referee in a Game Where No One Knows the Score

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pp. 147-153

The three basin states and the Department of the Interior signed on to the 1997 Cooperative Agreement on the premise that they would find ways to negotiate a program rooted in solid, peer-reviewed science. That vision has been noble but deeply...

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14: Science as Justification for Sacrifice: The Junk Science Controversy

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pp. 155-163

In science, truth is procedural. Truth is dependent on the logical procedures used to arrive at it. A fact is judged according to the quality of procedures that produced it. The person who has only one watch knows what time it is, but a group with multiple...

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15: Science as Faith: Negotiating an Adaptive Management Deal for Terrestrial Habitat

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pp. 165-177

One aspect of Endangered Species Act (ESA) implementation has been the designation of critical habitats—the geographic areas requiring special management on behalf of target species. On the Platte, no critical habitat has been designated for the least...

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16: Science as Faith: Putting Adaptive Management to Its First Test with the Sedimentation-Vegetation Problem

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pp. 179-191

Sediments washed down from the Rocky Mountain Front Range have long provided much of the muddy glop on which Lower Mississippi River Valley ecosystems and civilizations have been built. Sedimentation had been crucial to the construction of traditional...

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17: Scent of Victory and Impasse

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pp. 193-195

By the summer of 2002, the construction of a reasonable and prudent alternative was well under way. A water action plan had been outlined, a terrestrial habitat plan had been sketched, and protocols for research and monitoring efforts were being put in place...

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Part 6: Reaching Sufficiency: Wrestling with Skunks

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pp. 197-348

On Wednesday, February 19, 2003, soon after the Governance Committee gathered in a motel conference room near Denver International Airport, the leader of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) team stepped up to a flip chart. He listed in two or three..

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18: Negotiating Context, 2000–2006

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pp. 199-212

Periodic drought has long been part of life in the West, especially in the Platte Basin (McKee et al. 2000). Drought returned to all three basin states in 1999 and 2000, and it was severe, reaching record-breaking levels by 2002. It remained a factor for the duration...

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19: Regime of the River: Colorado and Nebraska Nightmares

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pp. 213-238

There was a tangle of issues connected to the “regime of the river.” The term had come up initially in Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) re-licensing discourse about the environmental account (EA) that had been installed at Lake McConaughy and signed...

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20: Regime of the River—Sharing Peak Flows: Colorado and the USFWS Struggle on the South Platte

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pp. 239-253

The frequency and magnitude of river flow peaks are determined by many variables. In general, they vary directly with precipitation intensity, speed of snowmelt, and slope steepness. They tend to vary inversely with soil infiltration rates, vegetation density...

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21: Regime of the River; Wyoming and Nebraska Address New Depletions

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pp. 255-264

Historically, Nebraska has had an interest in seeing that Wyoming reservoirs maintain their yields because Nebraskans have lived primarily on Wyoming direct and return flows. About 80 percent of the water captured behind Wyoming’s North Platte reservoirs...

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22: Regime of the River: Nebraska Confronts Its History

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pp. 265-282

The regime of the river Nebraska was in the process of defending vis-à-vis Colorado and Wyoming was falling apart within its own borders. In mid-1997, when Nebraska authorities signed the Cooperative Agreement (CA) and thereby promised to prevent...

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23: Regime of the River—Building a Federal Depletions Plan: States Confront the U.S. Forest Service

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pp. 283-304

Other regime-of-the-river fights had pitted state against state and Colorado, at least, against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) over peak flow issues on the South Platte. But another river regime “skunk” needed to be wrestled. In this instance, the states...

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24: Regime of the River: Inserting Pulse Flows

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pp. 305-318

Impounded water made it possible to build a civilization that required the capture of spring flood peaks and other pulses so they could be distributed across time and space for intensified agricultural production and to fulfill urban demand. But prior to dam...

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25: Locked into an Awful Dance: Bypass Flows and Hydro-cycling

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pp. 319-335

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) pushed for a commitment from the Central Platte Public Power and Irrigation District (CNPPID) and the Nebraska Public Power District (NPPD) to provide, under some pulse-building circumstances, bypass...

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26: The Pallid Sturgeon Habitat Gamble

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pp. 337-348

Available evidence suggested that the pallid sturgeon was in extreme danger of becoming extinct (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 2000a: 7). In the view of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), the pallid sturgeon’s plight could not be ignored...

Part 7: Reaching Sufficiency: Structuring Decision Making

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pp. 349-379

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27: Wielding the Regulatory Hammer

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pp. 351-364

The problem in general was that environmental impact statement (EIS) and biological opinion (BO) analytical teams had been attempting to formulate publicly defensible documents in the service of a more natural variable flow vision, but the states and water...

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28: Adaptive Management: Lashing Together Conflicting Visions with a Chinese Wall

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pp. 365-379

At its core, the struggle over the draft biological opinion (DBO) was a fight about how adaptive management would be conducted on the Platte River. That fight, in turn, was about how the interests would govern themselves under uncertain conditions. Whatever adaptive...

Part 8: Conclusions: Making a Mesh of Things

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29: Search for Approval

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pp. 383-396

If there was ever a celebration of the completion of twelve years of negotiations, the nearest approximation followed a morning of discussion of the political challenges in obtaining authorizations and appropriations from the federal government...

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30: Policy Implications

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pp. 397-405

The Platte River system once provided paths for the great Platte River Road—the convergence of the Oregon, Mormon, California, and Overland trails through the high plains east of the Rocky Mountains (Mattes 1969). From the mid-1840s through the early...

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31: Theory Implications

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pp. 407-428

In all societies, collective goods have been seen as essential to the production and enjoyment of private goods. Public roads and streets are necessary for the use of private automobiles. The Federal Communications Commission regulates the airwaves...

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Appendix A: Appreciation

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pp. 429-430

This study has been made possible by the cooperation, goodwill, and assistance of many people representing the various negotiating constituencies. To those listed and to many others not recognized here, who have been helpful in numerous ways, I extend my warmest...

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Appendix B: Theory and Methods

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pp. 431-436

A major theoretical question has framed this study from the beginning: how do individually rational actors transcend the prisoners’ dilemma dynamic to solve a problem requiring joint collaborative construction of a collective good to address a tragedy...

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Appendix C: Governance Committee

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pp. 437-438

From 1997 to the end of 2006, the Governance Committee (GC) was the central locus of negotiations to implement the 1997 Cooperative Agreement, the objective of which was to produce a viable habitat recovery program. The GC was served by four standing...

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Appendix D: Program Milestones; Appendix E: Adaptive Management Advisory Consulting Team

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pp. 439-441

Progress toward meeting the objectives for Endangered Species Act (ESA) compliance will be measured in terms of the achievement of ten milestones during the first thirteen-year program increment. The Governance Committee is empowered...

Appendix F: Program Budget

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pp. 443

Appendix G: Photo Gallery

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pp. 445-450

Appendix H: Chronology

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pp. 451-456


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pp. 457-473


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pp. 475-483

E-ISBN-13: 9781607320555
E-ISBN-10: 160732055X
Print-ISBN-13: 9781607321835
Print-ISBN-10: 1607321831

Page Count: 528
Illustrations: 40
Publication Year: 2010