U.S. Water News Online
SANTA FE -- Federal agencies have violated the Endangered
Species Act by allowing parts of the Pecos River to dry, resulting in
the deaths of countless Pecos bluntnose shiners, an environmental
group alleges in a lawsuit.
Forest Guardians filed a federal lawsuit recently accusing the
U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers of
violating the act.
Large amounts of water are commonly released all at once to
satisfy the needs of farmers downstream. This leaves insufficient
water for the fish, John Horning of the Forest Guardians said.
``The bureau operates the system as if the farmers own it. The
reality is that the American public owns it,'' Horning said. ``Our
contention from day one on the Pecos is that the bureau should be
operating the dams with more than just agricultural interests in
Federal lawyers are expected to file a response soon, according to
Ken Maxey, area manager for the Bureau of Reclamation in Albuquerque.
``The only thing I'd be willing to say right now is that the
drought, which is certainly severe in the Southwest, is acutely
severe on the Pecos,'' Maxey said. ``It's particularly difficult to
manage a river when you have no water to manage it with.''
Forest Guardians argue that management problems began long before
the recent drought.
Horning said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must be notified
about any actions that may affect the Pecos bluntnose shiner because
it is endangered.
In 1991, the service issued an opinion stating the huge block
releases on the Pecos were an obstacle to the recovery of the fish
species, according to Horning.
``It's crisis, emergency-room management of the endangered
species,'' Horning said. ``Somebody's got to bite the bullet here and
realize that fundamental changes are needed, and until fundamental
change occurs, we're going to be pestering them night and day.''
Forest Guardians are seeking a court order in the lawsuit to force
the Bureau of Reclamation and the Corps of Engineers to reduce block
releases and cut irrigation in the Fort Sumner Irrigation District to
free water for the fish. The ultimate goal is to establish permanent
water storage in the Pecos River system to provide water for the fish
in dry periods.
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