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Nebraska is a prairie State. Historically our principal forested land was along the Missouri River. The streams and rivers that are tributary to this main river served as the highways by which woodlands have expanded westward. Historical records show that these woodland corridors except the Niobrara and the Missouri were minimal and it was not until after protection from fire that most of our stream and river associated woodlands became established.
We have four primary environmental corridors extending across our State. These include thu Missouri, Platte, Niobrara, and Republican Rivers. Of these, only the Niobrara has not been irreversibly altered by Federal actions and is not immediately threatened by so-called channel improvement.
MISSOURI RIVER ENVIRONMENTAL CORRIDOR The actions that have degraded the Missouri River environmental corridor include the construction of multipurpose mainstem impoundments; the channelization of 263 miles of river beginning 59 miles below Gavins Point Reservoir; and the operation of these impoundments to facilitate navigation. The mainstem reservoirs provided flood control that resulted in the removal of thousands of acres of floodplain woodlands and other important habitat. These lands are now generally devoted to intensive agricultural crop production. The reduction cf environmental diversity and area of habitat as had a corresponding detrimental impact on wildlife.
The channelization of the river consisted of confining the river flows to a channel that is basically one-third of its natural width for 263 of its 322-mile length below Gavins Point Reservoir along our eastern border. In its original form the river provided essential roosting and loafing habitat for migrating waterfowl. It supported an excellent warm-water fishery including the only commercial fishing permitted in Nebraska. The attached papers point out in detail the fisheries losses that resulted from channelization.
While we do not have comparable documentation on use by waterfowl, the impact of the channel improvement is at least equal to the reduction of 67 percent that was sustained by the fisheries resource.
Historically the flows in the Missouri were lowest during the fall season which corresponded with peak waterfowl migrations down the corridor. These natural low flows leit numerous areas of sand and mud which were attractive waterfowl loafing and roosting sites.
Under the present reservoir operation scheme, high flows required for downstream navigation are maintained through the period when natural low flows would have occurred. Consequently, waterfowl use is also severely reduced even on the 59-mile unchannelized reach of the Missouri below Gavins Point Reservoir.
This remaining unchannelized portion of the Missouri River and associated resources is threatened by further Federal action. The Corps of Engineers included this reach of the river in the 1970 omnibus rivers and harbors bill for channelization to allow navigation and bank stabilization. This bill drew favorable action from the House during the last session, but was not in the Senate version of the bill. Fortunately this feature of the bill was eliminated during conference. Enclosed you will find our comments on the corps' draft environmental impact statement for this project.
REPUBLICAN RIVER ENVIRONMENTAL CORRIDOR The disastrous flood of 1935 precipitated the installation of 5 multipurpose Corps of Engineer and Bureau of Reclamation Flood control irrigation reservoirs in the Republican watershed. In our opinion these facilities to date, have not contributed to any serious degradation of the corridor. We have had numerous, isolated fish kills in the stream resulting from water withdrawals for irrigation. However, the total fishery in the basin, at least temporarily, has a much higher capacity than before the reservoirs were constructed.
The control of river flows has led to another problem in the view of a group of local farmers along the river. This group contends that willow trees have encroached into and severely reduced the capacity of the channel to carry floodflows. On the basis of their request the Corps of Engineers has made a study and designed a scheme, known locally as “Operation Willow.” The plan calls for removal of the trees and restoration of the capacity of the stream to carry floodflows. Even though this proposal is relatively inactive, the local promoters of the project maintain that there is need for project implementation. Had it not been for this group of beneficiaries' unwillingness to assume operation and maintenance
responsibilities this project would likely have been implemented over the objections of the Federal and State (both Nebraska and Kansas) wildlife agencies.
It is somewhat ironic that, as a group, those who are demanding relief through the proposed channel improvement are the recipients of a high level of benefits from the Federal action that precipitated the condition about which they are concerned. All are protected from catastrophic flooding, such as the 1935 flood, and many obtain irrigation water as a result of the projects.
PLATTE RIVER ENVIRONMENTAL CORRIDOR
The third corridor that we wish to discuss is one in which there has not, to our knowledge, been overtures made for a federally assisted or Federal channel improvement project. However, the conditions exist that make it vulnerable to such a request. According to one estimate upstream Federal or federally assisted projects have resulted in a loss of up to two-thirds of the original channel capacity in some areas. We are, at this time, experiencing flows from snow melt in the Rocky Mountains which are causing flooding to developments which have been unwisely located within the flood plain. Significant flood damages are expected to extend across the western half of the State, intensified by these past water development schemes.
In the eastern one-half of the State the authorized mid-State reclamation project, if implemented, will likely extend this degraded channel by dewatering to the confluence of the Loup and Platte Rivers. This would leave only about one-sixth of the total miles of the North Platte, South Platte and Platte Rivers across our State which are not vulnerable to an environmentally disastrous Federal channelization project. Numerous sites along this remaining distance are now being developed as residential sites, in spite of the jeopardy from foods.
We will confine our remarks relating to the adverse impact that channelization of the Platte would have on wildlife resources to the effect that it would have on migratory waterfowl and cranes, since this impact is international in scope. We shall also further restrict our remarks to the central portion of the Platte since data for this area is most readily available from the reevaluation of the previously mentioned mid-State project.
Ducks and geese approaching 1 million in number annually take advantage of this portion of the river and the adjacent croplands during their spring migration. State and Canadian Provinces of the central flyway have been concerned with the status of white-fronted geese for many years as evidenced by highly restrictive harvest regulations throughout the flyway. The 1971 spring waterfowl census showed 143,000 white-fronts using the Platte Valley in Nebraska. This was 85.2 percent of the total midcontinent population of this species.
There are about a quarter of a million lesser sandhill cranes (over 80 percent of the total continental population) that use this area and a short reach of the North Platte River as a spring staging area.
It may logically be argued that the primary resource, the Platte River that supports this high use by migratory birds will be lost as a result of the virtual dewatering of the Platte by implementation of the authorized mid-state project. Congress may determine, however, that the project is environmentally infeasible based on the yet to be developed environmental impact statement.
We obviously have omitted many items that should be included in an enumeration of the impact that dewatering of streams for irrigation purposes and channel improvement would have on an environmental corridor. Based on present knowledge, some of these factors are known and some are not. An example of an unknown that should be considered is, "What is the importance of prebreeding season conditioning to the reproductive capacity of the ducks, geese and cranes which congregate annually in our fertile Platte Valley?"
In answer to your questions on the impact on neighboring watersheds and the extent that we participate in planning of agency projects let me briefly state that too many projects merely result in transferring problems to another area at the expense of another resource as we have attempted to illustrate.
As regards our participation in planning I would only say that it has not been adequate. It must be realized, however, that; (1) We operate our game and fish program almost exclusively with funds derived from the sale of hunting and fishing licenses and Federal aid for fish and wildlife restoration; (2) almost all of the meager compensation that we have received to date from the losses sustained by the wildlife resource due to Federal projects stems from our operation and management of project lands. In other words we are providing the mitigation to the resources for which we are responsible and the Federal Government is merely providing some land that is normally required for project purposes. In very simplified terminology, we are in a “heads we lose-tails they win" predicament.
Following are my suggestions for improvements to the present programs as you requested:
1. Adequate Federal funding to the Federal and State wildlife agencies for the implementation of an adequate program for the evaluation of Federal projects with funds derived from the same source as funding for the Federal planning and construction agencies.
2. Strengthening of the Environmental Policy Act of 1969 so that environmental feasibility is on the same plane as engineering feasibility and economic feasibility.
3. Amend the enabling act of the various Federal programs to require that one of the considered alternatives to any project as described should be public acquisition and management of problem areas such as flood plains for environmental purposes.
4. A congressional reappraisal of the intent of the Reclamation Act as regards irrigation development east of the 100th meridian.
5. During the interim a moratorium should be declared on all channel improvement projects in which critical resources would be damaged either directly or indirectly unless there are no alternative safeguards to human lives and health. We appreciate the opportunity to make these comments. If we can be of further assistance in your efforts to place environmental consideration in proper perspective in various Federal channelization or so called channel improvement projects we would be pleased to assist. Very truly yours,
WILLARD R. BARBEE, Director.
STATE OF NEBRASKA,
Lincoln, Nebr., June 10, 1971.
Representatives, Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, D.C. DEAR CONGRESSMAN Reuss: Your letter of May 20, 1970, to Mr. T. A. Filipi, Secretary, Nebraska Water Pollution Control Council, has been forwarded to me for reply.
The Nebraska Soil and Water Conservation Commission has worked very closely with the U.S. Soil Conservation Service on watershed projects constructed in Nebraska since initiation of the program here in 1954. Since that time, 12 watershed projects have been completed, three of which have some form of channel improvement or alteration. There are 20 other small watershed projects with construction partially completed. A total of about 185 miles of channel work has been completed in Nebraska under the Public Law 566 program.
Our view is that, in general, the channel improvement work completed and presently planned under the Public Law 566 program is satisfactory. Benefits both within and outside any particular watershed have been positive and construction has been accomplished in such a manner that it has not been detrimental to the environment.
The Corps of Engineers presently maintains a navigation channel in the Missouri River, which borders Nebraska, from its mouth to Sioux City, Iowa. There is no doubt that the channelization of the river has been detrimental to fish, wildlife, and especially waterfowl. But, it has also provided an inland waterway to Nebraska and neighboring States.
The corps now proposes to extend the project to Yankton, S. Dak. This extension was initially endorsed by our commission and the State of Nebraska but support was withdrawn in la 1970, pending further study of effects of the project on Nebraska. We are presently undertaking a special State study on this item, and are concerned about the environmental impact of this project as well as any other channel improvement project in our State.
On the other hand, there are projects in Nebraska that are creating problems through lack of channel maintenance. These are reservoir projects that have decreased flood flows. Subsequent to construction, the stream channel below the reservoir has become blocked with brush and sediment to the point where normal flood releases from the reservoir now create flooding because of the restricted stream channel. In these cases, it appears that channel improvement and maintenance is necessary to avoid creation of problems similar to those being prevented. The Nebraska Soil and Water Conservation Commission is responsible for review of all Federal planning reports pertaining to water resources development. Reviews of project plans and environmental statements pertaining to the National Environmental Policy Act are coordinated with other concerned State agencies, including the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. Recommendations are then made to the Governor for formation of a State position on the proposed project. An informal review of the draft project proposal is generally afforded State agencies before the project is formalized by the Federal agency. This provides some opportunity for State input before the final proposal is made. We welcome this liaison with Federal planning agencies, but would like more at earlier stages.
Congressman Reuss, we in Nebraska are proud of the pure air and clear water that we have in our State. But, we are also concerned with problems of erosion and flooding that detract from our quality of life and must be abated. Our report on the framework study, the central feature of Nebraska's State water plan puts the problems, needs, and opportunity for water resource conservation and development into perspective. I am enclosing a copy of the report.
(SUBCOMMITTEE NOTE.—The report referred to is in the subcommittee files.)
We believe that environmental factors of projects have too long been neglected. But, we also believe that in order to develop the quality of life desired by Nebraskans, and Americans in general, the conservation, preservation, and development of our resources must proceed in harmony. One cannot proceed with complete disregard for the other. This is not an easy mission but we are learning. Regretfully, part of the learning process must be through trial and error.
We do not believe that a complete moratorium on projects involving channel improvement provides an answer and urge that authorized project construction proceed on a logical timetable. These projects must be viewed on an individual basis and State and local governments should be in a position to bear certain responsibilities. Planning of future projects should fully incorporate environmental factors into the project planning and formulation.
We are following your present subcommittee hearings with keen interest. I hope this will be of help to you and other subcommittee members in your deliberations. Very truly yours,
DAYLE E. WilliAMSON,
STATE OF NEVADA,
Division OF NATURAL RESOURCES,
Carson City, Nev., May 12, 1971. Congressman HENRY S. REUSS, Chairman, Conservation and Natural Resources Subcommittee, Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, D.C.
DEAR CONGRESSMAN REUSS: Your letter of April 26 regarding the handling by Federal agencies of their responsibilities of streams and rivers has been referred to
The Corps of Engineers and Bureau of Reclamation are the Federal agencies primarily involved in improvement, modification and channelization of streams and rivers in Nevada.
Most of the benefits described in your letter have resulted from the limited number of projects in Nevada. Also, most of the "adverse effects” you described have been the basis for complaints. We feel that both the corps and Bureau have done an admirable job in considering these conflicting interests and in planning, development and construction of projects to maximize benefits and minimize adverse effects.
This division, by assignment from the Nevada Department of Conservation and Natural Resources cooperates with these Federal agencies and provides coordination of State and local concerns, interests and responsibilities. We have found representatives of the corps and Bureau responsive to our participation, but yet not compromising what we recognize must be their responsibility. Very truly yours,
Roland D. WESTERGARD,
STATE OF Nevada,
Carson City, Nev., June 3, 1971.
DEAR CONGRESSMAN REUSS: We have read that you are conducting hearings relative to channelization in U.S. Department of Agriculture Public Law 566 projects. Nevada is a strong supporter of small watershed projects.
The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources represents the Governor of Nevada in establishing State priorities for Public Law 566 projects. It is our opinion that all project measures installed or planned in Nevada watersheds are beneficial to the community, State, and Nation. Our greatest concern is the lack of funds to plan and construct projects at a reasonable rate.
Channelization has not been an important part of constructed projects in Nevada. If channels are a part of future projects we are confident that the present teamwork between the Soil Conservation Service and fish and game agencies and other interested agencies will properly protect all interests. In Nevada we have always had close working relations with all Federal and State agencies in the natural resource field.
Let us emphasize again that watershed projects have been good for Nevada, and with continued close cooperation they will continue to be an important program to protect and properly utilize our natural resources and environmental heritage. Very truly yours,
Elmo J. DeRicco, Director.
JUNE 14, 1971. Hon. HENRY S. REUSS, U.S. House of Representatives, House Office Building, Washington, D.C.
DEAR REPRESENTATIVE Reuss: Nevadans are keenly interested in the hearings you are currently holding regarding channel improvements in Public Law 566 and other projects. Many of our citizens, including fish and wildlife interests, feel it would be a serious mistake to declare any type of moratorium on this vital resource program.
In Nevada, channel improvement has not and will not become a controversial issue. Projects to date have not had channels for carrying flood flows as a project measure. Future projects may of necessity include channels, but we are convinced that with continued cooperation during planning and construction we will be able to protect all interests.
Annual benefits from planned projects in Nevada are estimated to be $850,000. Some of these benefits are identified as direct benefits to recreation, fish and wildlife, etc. We feel there are many unidentified benefits that haven't been claimed directly or indirectly that benefit fish and wildlife.
We urge you and your committee to hear the positive side as well as the negative side before any hasty action to cripple this fine program is taken. Sincerely,
JAMES KIELHACK, Chairman, Nevada State Soil Conservation Committee.
STATE OF NEW HAMPSHIRE,
Concord, N.H., May 10, 1971.
DEAR REPRESENTATIVE Reuss: The New Hampshire Fish and Game Department has been involved in several Federal projects involving stream channel work. In most New Hampshire projects involving the Soil Conservation Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service we have been satisfied that
reasonable consideration has been given to the protection and enhancement of fish and wildlife.
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