Managers Discuss Water Tools for the Middle Rio Grande

Media Contact: Mary Carlson, (505) 462-3576

For Release: October 31, 2012

SANTA FE, N.M. - Work toward a new biological opinion, continued drought and the possibility of dealing with even leaner water years in the future brought water managers in the Middle Rio Grande together for some serious discussions this week.

The two-day meeting was organized by the Bureau of Reclamation with a goal of bringing key decision makers together to identify, prioritize and create action items for the development of water management tools with potential of providing greater flexibility in meeting the needs of water users, fish and wildlife and remaining in compliance with the Rio Grande Compact and the Endangered Species Act.

"We recognize the collective efforts of the agencies in this room in working together to meet many of the requirements of the 2003 Biological Opinion on the Middle Rio Grande over the last decade, and the current efforts of the agencies working toward transition of the Middle Rio Grande Endangered Species Collaborative Program to a Recovery Implementation Program," said Reclamation's Albuquerque Area Manager Mike Hamman. "We have the right people in the room at this critical moment to help us to continue to effectively manage the limited water supply."

As part of the preparation for the meeting, participants from Reclamation, New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission, Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority, Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service worked to compile a list of potential and beneficial water management tools. The feasibility of implementing these tools to benefit the Middle Rio Grande was the focus discussion throughout the two-day meeting. More than 30 tools were evaluated ranging from seeking authorization to change the way water is managed or stored at certain reservoirs, to developing a mutually agreed upon accounting system for depletions.

Water managers are preparing for what could be another difficult year with most reservoirs in New Mexico already low heading into another winter likely to be dry. October forecasts from the National Weather Service now show that the El Ni?o weather pattern that was expected to bring moisture to New Mexico over the coming months is weak and doesn't appear to be strengthening.

The impacts of the drought are also evident in the latest Rio Grande silvery minnow population monitoring reports. In spite of the about 56,000 acre-feet of supplemental water released by Reclamation over the last year to help boost Rio Grande flows, September silvery minnow density data is comparable to that collected in 2003. Four of the 20 sites where fish are collected were dry in September and the silvery minnow was found in only three of the remaining 16 sites. In 2003, the silvery minnow was only collected at one of the 20 monitoring sites. With support from the Collaborative Program, the silvery minnow is being actively bred and raised at the city of Albuquerque's Bio-Park, the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission's Los Lunas Silvery Minnow Refugium and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Dexter National Fish Hatchery. Plans are in place to augment the population by stocking 297,000 silvery minnow at 15 Middle Rio Grande sites beginning next week. Approximately 100,000 fish were stocked at the Big Bend National Park reintroduction sites last week.

Reclamation is already releasing water that had been leased for 2013 in order to continue to meet the flow requirements of the 2003 Biological Opinion. Water managers point out that a larger stretch of the Middle Rio Grande would have dried much earlier this summer if it hadn't been for the coordinated efforts and releases of water from storage.

Part of the water management meeting focused on water and endangered species operations on the Pecos River. Presenters from the Interstate Stream Commission, Carlsbad Irrigation District, Reclamation, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service who work on the Pecos explained that there is a very proactive approach on the Pecos and a high level of trust and communication among all partners. Although there were certainly aspects of the Pecos operations to be noted, presenters explained that there are major differences in operations on the two rivers and the Rio Grande poses many unique complexities.

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