LUBBOCK, Texas -- High Plains Underground Water Conservation District No. 1 officials are pleased with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's (USFWS) decision not to list the Arkansas River shiner as a endangered species under the Endangered Species Act.
"This is certainly good news for the people of the Texas Panhandle," said A. Wayne Wyatt, High Plains Water District manager. "Listing the Arkansas River shiner as threatened, rather than endangered, will have fewer restrictions on our surface and groundwater use. It gives us room for negotiation on how shiner habitat will be recovered," he said.
According to the USFWS, the Arkansas River shiner is "a small fish found in the Canadian River (South Canadian) in New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas and in the Cimmaron River in Kansas and Oklahoma."
The Arkansas River shiner was first proposed for listing as an endangered species in August 1994. At that time, the USFWS contended that the minnow was "threatened by habitat destruction and modification from stream dewatering or depletion due to diversion of surface water and excessive groundwater pumpage, water quality degradation, and construction of impoundments," and other factors.
Opponents in the Texas Panhandle disagreed from the start, crowding public hearings and submitting testimony to USFWS officials against the proposed endangered species listing.
"The High Plains Water District and many others have been monitoring this very closely for the past four years. There were several times when we thought this controversy had been laid to rest, but it kept popping back up. Through it all, there has been the support of our state and federal legislators, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, the Texas Farm Bureau, the Texas Cattle Feeders Association, the Canadian River Municipal Water Authority, local agricultural producer groups, university researchers, and the general public who voiced their concerns about the tremendous impact that an endangered species listing would have on use of surface and groundwater in the Texas High Plains," said Wyatt.
Now that the Arkansas River shiner is listed as a threatened species, USFWS biologists will draft a recovery plan for the minnow in the next two years.
"We intend to involve as many stakeholders as possible in the development of this plan," said Jerry Brabander, supervisor of the USFWS Ecological Services office in Tulsa. "Water conservation efforts will likely be an important component of the plan. Efforts in the Texas Panhandle have already reduced the amount of water used and the rate of groundwater depletion in portions of the region. This not only benefits the shiner but also farmers and municipalities," he said.
The USFWS believes that water releases from U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' reservoirs in the shiner's eastern range may need to be modified, but flood control and navigation will not be significantly affected. Under current conditions, water releases from Lake Meredith will not result in significant benefits and are not being considered for shiner recovery.
The USFWS intends to support and encourage efforts to increase irrigation efficiency and improve conservation of surface and groundwater resources in the Texas High Plains, said Brabander. Groundwater management districts in the Texas High Plains have aggressively encouraged use of water-saving technologies that have helped reduce the annual depletion rate.
"Conservation of the High Plains (Ogallala) Aquifer and the resulting benefits to stream flow will not occur without the participation of the states," he added. "Voluntary conservation of the groundwater resource will be much more effective in recovery efforts for the shiner than any actions attempting to restrict or otherwise regulate withdrawals."
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