For more than a decade, state and federal officials have been working to figure out a way to provide wild pallid sturgeon passage at Intake Dam on the Yellowstone River. Two years ago, the Army Corps of Engineers helped build a new irrigation headworks above the dam that includes huge fish screens that could halt the entrainment of an estimated 500,000 fish. The next step in the project, rebuilding the dam, has been delayed for a variety of reasons – mostly because of the high cost.
On Thursday, state and federal cooperators held a conference call where they zeroed in on three proposals. One would build a gradual rock ramp to back up water and allow fish passage. The pricetag on that option is about $90 million. The second alternative, and the one preferred by the Corps of Engineers, would create a sidechannel for fish passage while building a concrete weir to back up water for irrigators. That proposal is almost $60 million. On Thursday another proposal was tossed unexpectedly into the mix, one that would create a channel just to feed the irrigation canal. A very rough estimate for that project is $37 million, which is likely to climb.
The Corps of Engineers is pressuring the cooperators to come to a decision since funding for the project had been written into the president’s 2014 budget. Without a clear alternative, though, that money could vanish.
(Written by Brett French – Outdoors Editor for the Billings Gazette; Cover photo: moriverrecovery.usace.army.mil)