The new era for the Platte River began in a downstairs Stouffer Inn conference room in Denver in December 1993. Or maybe it began a few months later in Kearney, Neb.
Or maybe it began sometime around then in a
meeting room at Wyoming's capitol building in Cheyenne. It's hard
to pin it down, because it was the kind of turning point you don't
recognize until long after you've gone through
Still, the Denver meeting could be described
as a possible beginning. Secretary of Interior Bruce Babbitt, the
nation's chief official for attempting to sort out seemingly
impossible natural-resources conflicts, came from Washington, D.C.,
to take a seat that might have been positioned, symbolically, in
the middle of the room.
Surrounding him were
tables occupied by several dozen key people who compete for
percentages of the Platte River - water developers representing
hundreds of farms and dozens of cities, environmentalists
representing endangered species and an ecosystem under stress,
local officials representing the water cultures of the three very
different states along the river, and the
It was tense enough - a test of
whether there was any chance that all the competing interests could
agree on some reform in managing the river. It would either begin
to restore aspects of the natural river or blow up in increased
The odds for restoration didn't look
The Platte is the river that defines the
vast edge of the West, where the mountains slide into the Great
Plains. Flowing more than a thousand miles from headwaters in the
Colorado Rockies, across the plains of Colorado and Wyoming and the
entire length of Nebraska to join with the Missouri River, the
Platte gathers water from 90,000 square miles.
Its headwaters have the mountain personality - originating in
snowpack along the Continental Divide, gathering in flashy streams
that plunge down brief, narrow canyons. The plunge concludes
abruptly on the flatland, where the water mellows to the other
extreme, slowing and settling into the wide-bed tributaries, the
North and South Platte. By the time the tributaries converge in
Nebraska into a stretch called the Central Platte, the riverbed can
be almost perfectly flat - dropping only seven feet per
In total flow, the Platte is a trickle
compared to the West's trademark rivers - averaging about 1.3
million acre-feet per year where the tributaries converge. The
Colorado River's flow averages 11 times larger, and the Columbia,
fully 120 times larger. Yet the Platte's water might be the most
aggressively harnessed, blocked by 15 major dams and siphoned into
thousands of canals, ditches and other projects.
More than a million city people in Colorado and 100,000 in Wyoming,
and much of the agricultural economy in both states depend on the
Nebraska's development of the river has
taken the form of intensively irrigated agriculture - hundreds of
square miles of corn and soy fields whose harvest goes directly
into local feedlots for cattle. It's estimated that in some
stretches each drop of the Platte gets used eight times, as most of
the diverted water returns to the river again and again, directly
through treatment plants and agricultural runoffs or seeping back
through the aquifer.
Not that it operates
smoothly - when you treat a river like a grab bag, you get
perpetual arguing about who owns which drop. The states have
considered their segments as separate fiefdoms; so have the users
within each state and at times the environmentalists who speak for
fish and other wildlife. They tend to eye their neighbors upstream
and downstream with suspicion, and they've papered the river with
lawsuits, court decrees and elaborate water-delivery plans to divvy
And development of the river impacts
wildlife, most noticeably on the Central Platte. But the threat to
wildlife isn't immediately apparent. With the flow organized and
evened out, the bed along the Central Platte never goes dry, so it
might be the best-looking stretch of river, at least to the
The banks are lined by woods, so
that from the air, the river seems to thrive as a vein of wild
vegetation amid the farms. The stretch is rich with birds,
including 1,000 bald eagles that winter over and millions of
migrators - ducks, geese, sandhill cranes and shorebirds that stop
in for a few weeks each spring and fall, migrating between winter
refuges in the Caribbean and summer nesting grounds in
Also migrating through are a significant
percentage of the world's few remaining whooping cranes -
charismatic, graceful wading birds that stand five feet tall with
seven-foot wingspans, feathered pure white except for dabs of red
around the eyes and black on the wingtips.
are only 185 whooping cranes left. They're on the federal list of
endangered species. Their decline is linked to problems at both
ends of the flyway, but the Central Platte figures in. Before
development, the river's flow on the Central Platte averaged
two-and-a-half to four times what it does today, depending on who's
doing the estimating. The water that's missing evaporates from
reservoirs and canals or percolates away.
water used to come rushing down in the springtime, as the distant
snowpack melted, to spread out hundreds of yards wide on the
Central Platte, creating shallows, many sandbars and islands, and
seasonally wet meadows along the banks. As the runoff would
subside, the bed would go dry as much as six months a year - the
summer trickle from the mountains would simply vanish into the
prairie. The opposite extremes of floods and summer droughts
discouraged plant growth, so that instead of being wooded, many
banks and islands were bare.
The whooping crane
evolved to depend on that, eating the snails and worms in the wet
meadows, wading around freely, nesting in the open, always with a
view of any approaching predators. Other birds of the open river
habitat include the least tern, also listed as endangered, and the
piping plover, listed as threatened. Farther downriver, where the
Platte blends into the Missouri River, the pallid sturgeon, a fish
that dates back to prehistoric times, is also listed as
The rare wildlife species need more
water than they're getting, or the water should be timed more
naturally, to simulate the old spring floods and sweep away the
invasive vegetation. That's what the federal Fish and Wildlife
Service and the environmentalists' scientists believe. That's what
led to the meeting six years ago in the downstairs conference room
in Denver's Stouffer Inn.
Even as the meeting
got under way, other attempts around the West to reform developed
rivers weren't doing well. Four years of effort on a pair of rivers
in Nevada - the Truckee and the Carson - were blowing up; farmers
in Nevada were abandoning the negotiations there, fearing they'd
have to give too much water back to wildlife. There was also a kind
of stalemate on the Columbia River system, with the various federal
agencies hardly able to agree on one clumsy plan (barging and
trucking salmon around dams without much change in overall river
management), and the states and Indian tribes holding to several
more drastic plans to help the salmon.
California, the Bay Area rivers process had gone to the top,
pushing a bill through Congress calling for reform. But on the
ground and riverbanks still no agreement had been reached on how to
carry out that reform; in California, it was the environmentalists
who feared they'd give up too much.
of all the warning signs and failures elsewhere, the Platte River
consensus process took hold. No one can say exactly what the
crucial breakthrough was, as meeting followed meeting. It seemed a
process of subtleties, which continues today all around the river
The new era on the Platte, if it is
successful, will mean people along the river acknowledge the way
water moves through a landscape, how all the users touch each
other, and how the river connects with groundwater and the wildlife
habitat. No one can ever again blast out of this closed circle
unilaterally with a new well field, a new dam or a blistering
Instead, everyone will have to work
People talk about it the way Doug
Robothom, assistant to the director of the Colorado Department of
Natural Resources, does: "Some days you make progress and other
days you wonder what the hell you're doing. You have some difficult
people and some people emerge as leaders and some are thinking
creatively and finding a middle ground. There are endless little
goat paths you go down, and those frustrations. It can be very
tense at times."
And the way Jay Maher,
environmental resources manager for the Central Nebraska Public
Power and Irrigation District, talks about it: "People have to make
sure their needs are being met and the other guy isn't getting away
And Dave Sands, head of the
Nebraska chapter of the Audubon Society: "There's been a lot of
fighting and antagonism and nothing has been done for the river,
nothing to restore flows to the endangered species. I see this as a
way to stop the antagonism and start on the road to recovery."
These days, credit for the apparent progress is
claimed by people in just about every camp.
A gathering of selfish
When Babbitt showed up at the Stouffer
Inn, he and the rest of the Clinton administration had been in
power about a year, preaching consensus. Babbitt already had
expertise in water - he'd overseen a reform of Arizona's
groundwater management during the 1980s, when he was governor
there, and his assistant secretary, Rieke, had also come from
Arizona and been instrumental there.
situation was ready for a fresh strategy. Until then, the strategy
was to attempt to reform one project at a time - occasionally some
new dam was proposed, or some existing dam or diversion came up for
renewal of a federal permit, and the feds and environmentalists
would try to apply specific leverage.
particular, two environmental groups - the Audubon Society and the
Platte River Whooping Crane Trust, which preserves some acreage
along the Central Platte - were targeting Kingsley Dam. The dam
holds back McConaughy Reservoir, the largest reservoir on the
river, siphoning a quarter million acre-feet per year off to farms
and hydropower generators, but it was vulnerable because its
license to generate power was expiring.
of how the dam could be adjusted to help the wildlife downriver had
bogged down. An arbitrator had failed. Opposing lawsuits had been
filed by environmentalists and a group of
"It was delay after
delay after delay," says Paul Currier, executive director of the
Platte River Whooping Crane Trust. Even as the delay dragged on, a
half-dozen projects far upriver, in the Colorado headwaters, also
came up for renewal, including diversionary pipelines and
reservoirs for Front Range cities such as Fort Collins, Boulder and
Greeley. Also, Wyoming was proposing some new projects for its
farmers and cities.
So the federal government
gained leverage at numerous points around the river
With more at stake, political support for
a consensus process began to materialize, from the ground up and
the top down. In an expanded series of meetings around the river
states, the hammer of the Endangered Species Act helped keep
everyone talking. Finally a tangible milestone was was reached -
the first written agreement, in July 1994, a Memorandum of
Understanding, signed by the feds and the governors of the three
The memo of agreement was only six
pages, so sketchy it was hard to disagree with, saying the
negotiations would continue with the stated goal of harnessing the
entire river basin's development to help the wildlife, somehow. It
was, says participant Dan Luecke, who works for the Environmental
Defense Fund in Boulder, Colo., "an agreement on the shape of the
A second series of difficult meetings
began to figure out how to carry out the goal. Negotiators gathered
in uninspiring motels and government offices strung along
Interstate 80 - in Cheyenne, Lincoln, Kearney, Omaha and Grand
Island. Whenever it was Denver's turn again, they moved from motel
to motel or to the regional Fish and Wildlife Service
For a while they settled in the
Continental Airlines frequent-flyer conference room in Denver's new
airport, because it, too, was convenient. Always, as one negotiator
says, "The coffee was bad."
"We'd all fly into Denver
International Airport from around the country," says John
Echeverria, who was the lead attorney for Audubon. "We'd go into
one of the airport's conference rooms. No windows, just walls.
Maybe 20 of us - two environmentalists, maybe five from the federal
government and 16 representing the states and the development
"Each time, we'd be
in the room for seven hours. Meeting like that, every month or so,
it's enormously demanding of your time and energy and resources."
At first, the government people were in charge,
and there was a rigid order - assigned seats at the table for the
states and the feds, and the rest of the people, including
representatives of the irrigation districts and the
environmentalists, sitting away from the table, like an
The government people negotiated among
themselves, with one state or another making a presentation on how
no water could be spared and the feds countering. Overhead
projectors hummed and blackboards were filled with charts of
hundreds of months of the river's flow at dozens of checkpoints.
The audience could only listen and sometimes ask questions or take
district didn't even have a seat at the table, even though we were
carrying the ball for Nebraska," Maher recalls.
Environmentalists were discouraged also. "We had no seats (at the
table), no power in the process," Luecke says. "We'd get an
opportunity from time to time to make observations, put in pleas or
whine or whatever."
But on their own, the
governments couldn't agree on much of anything, because they have
vastly different personalities when it comes to water. One example:
Colorado and Wyoming are into intensive management of both wells
and surface water, while Nebraska isn't.
Nebraska, which only partly fits inside the 100th meridian that
traditionally marks the edge of the West, is the real cowboy state
when it comes to water policy. Unlike Wyoming and Colorado,
Nebraska still makes it illegal for cities and environmentalists to
buy out farmers' water. Nebraska ranks behind only California in
irrigated acreage, and the Nebraska farmers hold tightly to
The Central Nebraska irrigation district,
the main Nebraska district in the Platte River negotiations, has
only 30,000 residents or so, but they grow more than 40 million
bushels of corn a year, most of which goes to local feedlots that
are crammed with a million cattle. The agriculture draws from more
than the river. Farmers have drilled thousands of wells, inspired
by the rising price of corn and advances in the technology of
center pivots and pumps.
The wells now supply
five times as much water to farms in the area as the river does
directly. Most states have learned hard lessons about how
well-pumping along rivers has dried up river after river; Nebraska
has tried to ignore any connection.
Only in 1996
did the state set up a cumbersome and decentralized system for
regulating such wells through "natural resource districts," which
until then had focused on groundwater contamination. The new law
merely gives the resource districts the right to monitor and
regulate wells if they choose to.
No one even
knows how many wells there are in Nebraska. Up to 20 percent of
Nebraska's wells aren't registered - even though a law, in effect
for more than 40 years, requires registration.
That helps to explain why, in the Platte River negotiations,
Wyoming and Colorado didn't trust Nebraska to keep its hands off
any water that might be released for wildlife. For its part,
Nebraska didn't trust Wyoming and Colorado to release a fair
percentage of the river from upriver dams; Nebraska was even
pressing a separate lawsuit based on that suspicion (the case is
still being considered by the U.S. Supreme
Says Jim Cook, attorney for the Nebraska
Natural Resources Commission: "There isn't really one side that
aligns with another. All have individual interests."
After a while at the table with not much
result, the bureaucrats realized, as Robothom says, "We needed the
two main protagonists - environmentalists and water users - at the
So the federal and state agencies
let the process take on a life of its own; adding more seats right
at the table was a small sign of mutual respect.
Pushing some interests too
The second series of meetings was supposed
to last maybe a year, but dragged on for a year after that, and
then another year.
Ask Robotham how it felt to
be engaged hour after hour, meeting after meeting, and he laughs:
"It spans the range from tedium to tenseness to breakthrough, with
people employing humor."
As the adversaries
spent so much time together, the respect grew. Environmentalist
Luecke, for example, describes Mike Jess, Nebraska's state engineer
and water resources chief: "Mike Jess was a tough negotiator, but
he brought some good ideas to the table."
Glimmerings of progress created new problems. As more people
learned of the negotiations, more wanted to attend. A meeting in
Grand Island, Neb., was packed by as many as a hundred farmers.
Other meetings were packed by other interest
"Sometimes the tables
were so big, we had 50 people at the table," says Ralph Morgenweck,
regional director for the Fish and Wildlife Service. "We evolved
into gigantic meetings, of 75 people or more." Everyone agreed:
That was too large.
So the next agreement was a
step in the other direction, limiting meetings to 30 people or so,
and when necessary, breaking into smaller work groups, still trying
to represent all the viewpoints
"That became more
productive, simply because we had fewer people to deal with," says
Currier. "And there was less grandstanding, because people weren't
saying things just to please the audience."
Little by little, people sticking with the process got used to
Changes in personnel also had to be
weathered. Halfway through, Rieke, the leading federal official at
the table, resigned from the Department of Interior to take another
job. Her seat was filled by Patty Beneke, another assistant
secretary of Interior. Luecke, of the Environmental Defense Fund
(and a member of this newspaper's board of directors), also
withdrew, leaving the environmentalist viewpoint to be pushed by
the Audubon Society and the Whooping Crane Trust, two groups that
had more years on the river. The process
It was difficult even to agree on
basic facts, the most crucial being, how much water does wildlife
need? Fish and Wildlife Service weighed in with what seemed like a
definitive number: 417,000 acre-feet per year.
That meant more than 30 percent of the flow to the Central Platte
should be released when wildlife needs it. The figure stunned the
water users and the
"We were aghast," says
Cook, of the Nebraska Natural Resources Commission. "Things nearly
fell apart at that point."
The water users said
less water is needed by wildlife. In response to the resistance,
the Fish and Wildlife Service refigured and came back to the table
with a number that was both lower and looser: 130,000 to 150,000
acre-feet for wildlife. Sources for only 70,000 acre-feet or so
were identified, and the rest would have to be discovered by
further research and negotiations. This concession kept water users
at the table - but not environmentalists.
their protests in the spring of 1997 failed to budge the feds back
toward the higher acre-foot total for wildlife, the Audubon Society
and the Whooping Crane Trust pulled
"We had the sense we were
doing more harm than good by attending," Echeverria says. "We were
present, but we weren't having an effect on the process, and by our
presence, we were implicitly endorsing the
"It was frustration
at that point." But he adds, "You can't calibrate your proposal to
the strength of the opposition."
Even so, the
Platte River consensus process reached its next major milestone.
The feds and the states signed a roughly hundred-page "cooperative
agreement," which included details of how to help the wildlife, in
July 1997 - with the negotiators for the water users supporting it
- but no environmentalists at the table.
among the environmentalists there was chafing about strategy and
science. Luecke says he believed that "to talk about 417,000
acre-feet was going to get us nowhere."
A precedent for wildlife
cooperative agreement signed by the states and federal government
called for a new strategy on the Platte River, called
These would be new
water rights equal in priority to the most senior rights on the
river. They would be managed by the Fish and Wildlife Service,
which can order releases from dams and other projects according to
what the wildlife needs.
account in Nebraska would be at Kingsley Dam and its reservoir,
Lake McConaughy. The Fish and Wildlife Service would get 10 percent
of the storable flow into the reservoir during winter, averaging
50,000 to 70,000 acre-feet per year.
the environmental account would be at Pathfinder Reservoir. An
inflatable plastic dam would be built across the top of the dam to
increase its storage capacity, and 60 percent of the additional
stored water would be managed for wildlife downriver - about 15,000
acre-feet per year.
In Colorado, the
environmental account would be an innovation called the Tamarack
water bank, to be developed on state land along the Nebraska
border. During winter, when the river flow is high, water would be
pumped from wells along the river into nearby recharge basins.
During summer, when the river needs it most, the water would seep
underground back to the river. The timing of the Colorado water
releases would be adjusted by about 10,000 acre-feet per
Overall, it's touted as a $75 million
deal, with the feds chipping in about half and the rest coming from
the states and water projects.
As long as the
states and water users commit to it, they get a federal assurance
that there will be no further Endangered Species Act challenges of
individual projects or permits from here on.
Nebraska gets the relicensing of Kingsley Dam (recently approved
for another 40 years). Wyoming gets 40 percent of Pathfinder
Reservoir's additional stored water, to be diverted off to cities
and towns. Colorado gets its headwaters projects approved, and its
Tamarack project could keep minnows there off the federal
Endangered Species list.
The federal government,
in return for its compromising, is supposed to get the
on-the-ground aid of state and local regulators, who will work with
farmers to ensure that enough water reaches the birds and
The deal also calls for buying some key
parcels of habitat (10,000 acres during the first 10 or 15 years),
plus conservation and water-marketing schemes to come up with the
rest of the 130,000 to 150,000 acre-feet to be managed for wildlife
- or possibly more water for wildlife or possibly
The emphasis is on local flexibility and
"adaptive management," making more changes as you go along, based
on what works and what doesn't. New studies and monitoring will
supposedly determine how the wildlife species are doing and what
else is needed.
In effect, the negotiations
continue. A governance committee, atop a hierarchy of a dozen or
more new committees, oversees it and continues to try to represent
all points of view. There's a new three-year stage under way now,
with public hearings, preparation of an environmental impact
statement and review by the state legislatures. If the states and
the federal government sign the final documents, the full program
goes into effect for 10 years, with possible renewal beyond
"Whether you applaud it
or not," says former Colorado Department of Natural Resources chief
Jim Lochhead, "it is a significant shift in the way people use and
manage the water." The region's water industry, he believes, is
beginning to shoulder "external costs' such as habitat
Nebraska water resources chief Jess, who
runs surface water but not groundwater, says people along the river
will be asked to make "hundreds of small, incremental decisions'
adding up to real change.
The deal won't stop
new developments from using water along the river, but any new draw
from the river must be offset by the retirement of some other water
project or conservation or water buys (all in effect transferring
other water back into the river).
But not much
is guaranteed. That's why the Whooping Crane Trust pulled out of
the negotiations almost two years
"We weren't sure the
water will be enough; we weren't sure it would be delivered fast
enough, and there was no firm commitment from anyone," says
Currier. "Anyone can pull out at any time."
There are even doubts that any change in the delivery of water will
restore the lost habitat. Luecke, a hydrologist who's also a senior
environmental scientist for his group, acknowledges, "The applied
science of hydrologic restoration is in its infancy."
"I don't think flowing a lot
of water in the springtime is going to clean out that channel like
it used to," says Vernon J. Nelson, a Nebraska farmer who's on the
governance committee overseeing the process now; he also co-chairs
the land committee. "The only way is to dry out the bed in the
summer and go in there with a defoliant or a bulldozer and clean
out the vegetation." Under adaptive management, it could come to
The process grows
The Platte River process seems stronger
now, partly because the environmental groups have rejoined it. Two
of the 10 seats on the governance committee are reserved for
environmentalists, now shared by the Audubon Society, Whooping
Crane Trust and Environmental Defense
"It didn't make sense
for us to stand outside and throw stones," Currier says. "We
support the program now and want to see it work."
Audubon's Sands says, "The way the cooperative
agreement is structured, it would be very difficult to pursue a
policy that is not environmentally sound. The governance committee
has to act by virtual consensus - the committee needs nine of the
10 total votes to pursue a policy." No major decision can be made
unless at least one environmentalist signs on.
Some are less optimistic. Echeverria says he won't rejoin the
Platte River process. He has resigned from Audubon to be director
of the Environmental Policy Project at Georgetown
interests were effectively outgunned," he says. "There were scores
of attorneys and consultants from the water and power interests
negotiating with a handful of environmentalists. This is a case of
significant abdication of federal authority over a resource the
federal government is uniquely qualified to address (the migration
flyway and habitat that extends
process wasn't driven by what the species need, but by what the
states and development interests were willing to give," Echeverria
says. "I expect the program will prove to be inadequate for the
"Going forward, it
will only be more demanding, endless time and endless meetings. My
sense is that the environmental organizations can't justify
spending that much time and energy on it, but you know the
irrigation districts and other development interests will be
involved. Over time, the imbalance will only get worse."
One of the biggest chores will be containing
well-pumping along the river in Nebraska. Nebraska has funded a
program to study its thousands of wells, searching for impacts on
the river. Nebraska will probably edge closer to regulation or
buy-outs of wells - or be nudged
"We don't hide from
that," says Cook. "We know we'll have to get a handle on it, and we
have to persuade the other states we do have a handle."
All along the river, the impact on the
irrigators using river water will be felt mainly in drought years,
when the flow through canals and ditches is crucial. As Maher says,
"We're removing the drought protection."
sign of how the Platte River process could be derailed this far
along, farmers who fear loss of irrigation water have
It's similar to the Nevada rebellion
that derailed the process on the Truckee and Carson rivers. The
Platte rebellion has reared up in Nebraska, around a statewide
group of big-acreage irrigators called Nebraskans
"We're trying to stop
the encroachment of the federal government and the enviros into
this area," says Carroll Sheldon, who's on the board of directors
of Nebraskans First.
Sheldon manages or owns
several thousand acres of corn and soybeans along the Central
Platte. "This is probably the highest-yield land in the world," he
says. "We get 200 bushel of corn and 65 bushel of soybean (per
acre), and if it wasn't for irrigation, we'd have almost nothing.
It would just demolish us to lose our water."
Recently Sheldon and Nebraskans First have encouraged eight
counties along the Central Platte to form the Coalition for
Protection of Agricultural Communities. The counties have decided
to spend as much as $25,000 to draw up a "custom-and-culture
land-use plan," which will lay out the importance of agriculture
and how the irrigation systems shouldn't be tinkered with, Sheldon
The law firm of Karen Budd-Falen, based in
Cheyenne, Wyo., which consults with rural counties around the West
in similar anti-federal, anti-environmentalist stances, has been
hired to do the plan. Another group has sprung up linking rebels in
all three river states, the Platte River Basin Ag
"We feel the
cooperative agreement should be stopped right now," Sheldon says.
"This (Central Platte) used to be swamps. Over time, we have
drained the swamps, built up land along the river and made it
beautiful farmland. Now they want to turn it back to swampland. It
blows your mind."
But Nelson, who grows corn on
3,000 acres using surface and well water, speaks moderately. "I
hope this doesn't turn into a range war, and I don't think it will.
We have an Endangered Species Act we all have to abide by - if we
don't like it, we'll have to change the law," Nelson says. His
farm, Winsome Inc., has been in his family for four generations,
and he looks ahead to his kids and grandkids keeping it going. "I
named my farm that because I like what it means - charming,
pleasant personality ... The roots go pretty deep."
Nelson believes the cooperative agreement is
"achievable, as long as they stop at the 130,000 to 150,000
acre-feet" for wildlife. "If they go up to 417,000 acre-feet, it
would devastate the economy here."
already signed onto the process - state officials, water-system
managers and environmentalists - have responded to the rebels as
they have to all other opposition: by inviting the opposition into
"We need to shore
up our outreach efforts," says Mike Besson, director of the Wyoming
Water Development Commission. "It would have been better if we'd
brought these people into the process sooner. We need to identify
all the adverse impacts to see which way to go."
"I think it's a very good
national model for complex issues," says Fish and Wildlife's
Morgenweck. "You have to be patient to see it out, and when you do,
the outcome is clearly better than if you went to court with a
lawsuit. A court usually doesn't come up with a comprehensive
solution, a court just rules on an individual issue or
"And in court,"
Morgenweck continues, "it's a win or lose situation - everyone is
trying to beat the brains out of the opposition. But in a
negotiation, human nature is, "I'm going to give a little bit here
if I get a little bit over here." ... (And) what we're hearing from
the public is, "We want face-to-face discussions, personal
involvement." That starts to rebuild people's faith in government."
Nelson is one of many who appreciate how
getting acquainted has personalized the
"Locking horns doesn't
do anybody any good," he says. "I might not like what you're
saying, but I'm going to listen and then say what I have to say.
For the farming community here, my number one concern is to use the
water for farming because that's my
"Paul Currier (of
the Whooping Crane Trust) tells us his number one priority is the
crane. And that's okay. It doesn't make me dislike the man ... We
all gave up something to make it work. I hope it holds together."
Ray Ring writes in Bozeman,
Montana. Anne MacKinnon, who contributed to this story, is an
attorney and former editor of the Casper Star-Tribune in
This article is
part of a continuing series on consensus, collaboration and
conservation-based development and is funded by the Ford
You can contact
* Paul Currier, Platte River Whooping Crane
* Jay Maher, Central
Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation District,
* Carroll Sheldon, Nebraskans
* Mike Besson, Wyoming
Water Development Commission, 307/777-7626;
Ralph Morgenweck, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,
* Dan Luecke, Environmental
Defense Fund, 303/440-4901.