News Release Archive

Efforts to Protect Endangered Species in the Middle Rio Grande Continue with Renewed Commitments from Key Water Management Agencies

Media Contact: Mary Carlson, (505)462-3576, 12/05/2016 12:12
Jeff Humphrey, (602)242-0210, jeff_humphrey@fws.gov

For Release: December 05, 2016

Rio Grande
Rio Grande
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has completed and provided a new biological opinion to the Bureau of Reclamation, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District and the State of New Mexico, providing Endangered Species Act coverage for water-related activities in the Upper and Middle Rio Grande.

The parties have been formally consulting for nearly four years to address the needs of species protected under the act. The Service’s biological opinion concludes that the proposed water-related activities, including almost 90 species conservation commitments from the entities, will not jeopardize the survival of the endangered Rio Grande silvery minnow, southwestern willow flycatcher and the threatened yellow-billed cuckoo.

The Rio Grande is one of the most important natural resources in the state of New Mexico. “This Biological Opinion recognizes the core management elements that are necessary to sustain and ultimately recover populations of silvery minnows. The Biological Opinion is based on years of experimentation, rigorous science, and adaptive management strategies that will balance and meet human water needs while supporting wildlife conservation,” said Dr. Benjamin Tuggle, the Service’s Southwest Regional Director. “The substantial conservation commitments made by the Middle Rio Grande Partners will significantly improve the status of the silvery minnow, flycatcher and cuckoo.”

The entities involved in this consultation worked closely with the Service to come up with innovative, science-based solutions to improve habitat for the species between Cochiti Dam and Elephant Butte Reservoir while continuing to improve water delivery efficiencies.

"We are hopeful that the trust built during this complicated consultation will carry through to the implementation phase. We have a lot of work to do and are eager to move forward,” said Jennifer Faler, Albuquerque Area Manager for Reclamation.

“The Bureau of Indian Affairs has worked hard in collaboration with the parties and with affected tribes to maintain the sovereignty of the tribes as well as accomplish the goals related to the species,” said Bureau of Indian Affairs Regional Director William T. Walker.

These entities have worked collaboratively and persistently on water use and Endangered Species Act issues for about 20 years, starting with the onset of drought in 1996, through severe drought and litigation in early 2000’s, to continued drought in the following decade, all with significant investments of federal, state and local resources.

“Our agency continues to engage with its federal water management partners, the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District, the six Middle Rio Grande Pueblos and other water users to ensure State water laws and regulations provide a solid foundation in the basin from which to build upon,” said Interstate Stream Commission Director Deborah Dixon. “We have offered commitments that are included in the new biological opinion that will provide improvements in water availability for species, better habitat conditions and science-based water management while continuing to provide water and endangered species compliance for New Mexicans.”

An example of joint efforts in recent years is the coordination by water managers last spring to temporarily store additional water on the Rio Chama. This allowed them to augment the natural flow of the river through the middle valley in May to mimic a moderate spring runoff instead of the lower runoff that would have occurred naturally. That effort, in combination with habitat restoration conducted over the last decade contributed to increased numbers of young silvery minnow in the river this fall.

“The District is pleased to be able to work in partnership with Reclamation, the state of New Mexico and the Fish and Wildlife Service to assist in the preservation and recovery of endangered species, while preserving water rights and agricultural use in the Middle Rio Grande Valley. This fifteen-year biological opinion is a comprehensive approach that provides us needed flexibility to adapt to highly variable water supply conditions while providing the District the necessary coverage under the Endangered Species Act that allows us to continue our mission in meeting the needs of our constituents,” said MRGCD Board Chairman Derrick Lente.

The new biological opinion is available to the public at https://www.fws.gov/southwest/es/NewMexico/.

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Reclamation is the largest wholesale water supplier in the United States, and the nation's second largest producer of hydroelectric power. Its facilities also provide substantial flood control, recreation, and fish and wildlife benefits. Visit our website at https://www.usbr.gov and follow us on Twitter @USBR.

Relevant Link:

https://www.fws.gov/southwest/es/NewMexico/