Wednesday, February 1, 2023

USA: Environmentalists sue agencies for fish in Rio Grande

ALBUQUERQUE, NM ( Associated Press) – Environmentalists Wednesday accused the US government of not doing enough to ensure the survival of silver minnows in the Rio Grande (or Grande) River, one of the longest rivers in the country’s west, as drought Is.

In a lawsuit filed in federal court, the group WildEarth Guardians asked a judge to compel the Bureau of Reclamation and the federal Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to reconsider the impacts of water management. Listed as endangered.

They also want federal officials to develop measures to prevent dams and water diversion in the section of the river that crosses New Mexico’s most populous region that endangers the minnows.

The minnow was declared an endangered species about 30 years ago and has been at the center of various legal actions over the decades. The challenges have increased in recent years with increased pressure on the Rio Grande due to climate change, as the snowpack melts faster and strong winds dry out the soil, limiting the amount of spring runoff reaching the river.

Like the Colorado River and other waterways in the western United States, low water levels are becoming common in the Rio Grande.

Portions of the Rio Grande in far south Albuquerque have completely dried up this year, something that hasn’t happened in more than 30 years. Teams of biologists raced to save the silver mines from puddles that formed in the river bed before they dried up.

“It’s no surprise that silverfish populations are in danger,” said Daniel Timmons of WildEarth Guardians. “It is time to move beyond implementing minor improvements in the central Rio Grande and think globally about how to save a living river and all the native species that live in it.”

Timmons said the status quo is a recipe for fish extinction.

The federal Fish and Wildlife Service and the Office of Reclamation declined to comment on the lawsuit Wednesday.

Management of the Rio Grande is based on water sharing agreements in which Colorado, Texas, and Mexico also participate. Irrigation districts that supply vital liquid to thousands of farmers in the upper and lower parts of the valley that the river runs through are also part of the equation, with Native American communities located along the river having extensive rights and rights to the ditch. Hispanic enclaves that use it are included. Irrigation of crops.

In some cases, legislative action will be needed to change the dynamics of Rio Grande management.

For years, the Office of Improvement has worked closely with irrigation districts, tribes, the City of Albuquerque, and other water rights holders to release water for fish when the river is in danger of drying out or to encourage breeding of species.

There was no supplementary water this year.

A study funded by the bureau and published in October indicates that the status of minnows largely depends on ensuring adequate seasonal flows and living conditions conducive to spawning.

In their lawsuit, WildEarth Guardians blames “a century of unsustainable water use and mismanagement of the Rio Grande” for conditions that barely allow silverfish and other protected species to survive. The group confirms that the river has been converted into a channel, not a “living river”, with a variable but constant flow.

Environmentalists challenge the findings of a 2016 biological opinion adopted by the agencies that hydraulic operations in the middle Rio Grande will not pose a threat to endangered species or negatively affect their habitat.

The silverfish, about three inches (7.5 cm) long, has historically been one of the most abundant and widespread aquatic species in the Rio Grande, about 1,600 kilometers (1,000 mi) downstream from the northern New Mexico city of Española in the Gulf of Mexico. until . Biologists claim that the species has disappeared from more than 95% of its historical habitat.

Only three times in the last 26 years—in 1995, 2005 and 2017—have silverfish population densities in the central Rio Grande exceeded their density when they were listed as endangered in 1994.

The Federal Fish and Wildlife Service set a target of at least 5 specimens per 100 square meters. The target was achieved only twice during two consecutive years. In October 2022 the density was 0.17 fish per 100 m².

The lawsuit states that scientists project that increased temperatures due to climate change will reduce the Rio Grande’s flow by at least a third and possibly a half by the end of the century, with significant consequences for fish. Its residence

Associated Press

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