Monday, August 15, 2016

Tiny fish behind Rio Grande water plan

More than 19 miles of the Rio Grande dried up in July along the Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge south of Socorro due to excessively hot temperatures and very little rain. “The river was dry for two-and-a-half to three weeks starting in the middle of July,” said David Gensler, water operations manager for the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District, which delivers water to 70,000 acres of cropland. “It got wet again with the rains the first of August.” It is not unusual for the Rio Grande to run dry. The river dries up along some stretches almost every year, 2008 being a recent exception. About 30 miles of the river dried out last year and more may dry out this year before the irrigation season winds up at the end of October. “In almost every year going back to 1895, there was a major river drying,” Gensler said. “There has been far less drying since 1996 than there was before then. Every year since 1996, there has been something done by water managers to prevent drying.” That’s because the Rio Grande silvery minnow was declared an endangered species in 1994. Gensler said nothing needed to be done in 1995, which was an exceptionally wet year, but efforts to protect the minnow kicked in the following year. “Everyone is working to shape a hydrograph that is favorable to the fish,” Gensler said. “The last three years, we have diverted less than 300,000 acre-feet per year for irrigation. We were diverting roughly 600,000 acre-feet in the 1990s.” An acre-foot is the amount of water required to cover an acre at a depth of a foot. But in a statement released last week, WildEarth Guardians, a Santa Fe-based organization whose mission is the protection of wildlife, wild places and wild rivers, claims that the silvery minnow population has declined since the fish was given protected status...more

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