Location and Description: The Lower Yellowstone Project at Intake is a Bureau of Reclamation irrigation project located on the Yellowstone River 70 miles upstream from the confluence with the Missouri River. The project consists of a low-head diversion dam, a diversion head-works structure, and an irrigation canal system to deliver water to approximately 55,000 acres in eastern Montana and western North Dakota.
Problems and Need: The diversion dam is a known barrier to native fish migration, including endangered pallid sturgeon. The canal was documented to entrain hundreds of thousands of fish during diversion operations (April through September). Bureau of Reclamation has an obligation, under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), to modify the structure or the operation of this facility to address pallid sturgeon concerns raised by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks.
The proposed project is anticipated to play a major role in assisting in the recovery of pallid sturgeon in the Yellowstone River - Missouri River confluence area. The Lower Yellowstone Project at Intake provides a unique opportunity for the Bureau of Reclamation and the Corps of Engineers to work together with other partners to meet their conservation, recovery, and consultation responsibilities under ESA, as well as provide both agencies a less constrained environment in which to carry out their authorized purposes, including Reclamation’s continued operation of the Lower Yellowstone Project and the Corps’ continued operation of the Missouri River mainstem projects. Phase 1 of the project, new headworks with fish screens to prevent fish entrainment by the irrigation canal, is complete.
Issues and Other Information: The proposed project is a priority for recovery of pallid sturgeon on the Missouri River system. Providing fish passage at Intake Diversion Dam would open up 165 river miles of additional habitat that pallid sturgeon could utilize for spawning and other purposes. The natural condition of the Yellowstone River and its unregulated flow hydrograph suggest to biologists that this river reach is critical to the recovery of pallid sturgeon on the Missouri River system between Ft. Peck Dam and Lake Sakakawea.
The Corps of Engineers received authority to utilize Missouri River Fish & Wildlife Recovery Program funds to proceed with the Lower Yellowstone Project through WRDA 2007 (Section 3109). The multi-agency team has developed a project management plan utilizing integrated technical staff from both the Bureau of Reclamation and the Corps of Engineers. This virtual team leverages expertise and experience from both agencies to produce the best project performance for the recovery of pallid sturgeon.