Judge Re-issues Injunction on Yellowstone River Project

Judge Re-issues Injunction on Yellowstone River Project
On July 5, a federal judge again blocked construction of a proposed $59 million irrigation dam and bypass channel on the Yellowstone River in Montana. The Yellowstone is a major tributary to the Missouri River. U.S. District Judge Brian Morris reinstated his earlier injunction due to the potential threat to endangered pallid sturgeon, which inhabit portions of the upper Missouri and Yellowstone Rivers.

Biologists estimate the number of wild pallids in the upper Missouri River basin to be only about 125 fish. The League has expressed concern about the pallids’ ability to use the bypass, the high cost of the project, and whether it would help in pallid recovery.

Morris ruled that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ new analysis of the proposed dam and bypass channel likely violates federal environmental laws. In 2015, two wildlife groups – Defenders of Wildlife and the Natural Resources Defense Council – successfully sued to block the project, stating there was no evidence that the pallid sturgeon would use the new bypass channel around the dam. Instead, the two groups want the century-old rock and wood dam removed to restore a free-flowing Yellowstone River. The groups believe this would allow the pallid sturgeon to successfully spawn. The groups filed new claims that the more in-depth review still falls short of the requirements of the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA). Judge Morris agreed and said that government officials couldn’t demonstrate the project would “improve a situation that they concede to be dire.”