Rio Grande and river species in danger of extinction

The celebrated Rio Grande is now completely dry in some places and its silvery minnow fish faces imminent extinction, thanks to ‘excessive’ water diversions combined with drought, campaigners say.

As political wrangling continues, salvage operations have begun in an attempt to save the endangered silvery minnow in its dying river, which marks the border between the United States and Mexico, the Endangered Species Coalition said on 26 July.

“The endangered minnow has no-where else to go; when the river dies, it will go extinct in its native habitat. We need to solve this crisis once and for all so that the Rio Grande continues to flow and the minnow is guaranteed water,” said Brock Evans, Executive Director of the organisation, a coalition of more than 400 diverse groups supporting stronger protections for US imperilled wildlife.

Massive diversions for agriculture and houses already leave the river completely bereft of water in some places. “It’s a real shame that we have gotten to the point where emergency measures are needed to save the minnow,” said Sarah Matsumoto, western organiser for the Endangered Species Coalition. “We have long known that the river could go dry as early as this week, and something should have been done a long time ago to keep the river flowing. We need to find a real and lasting solution to the water problems in New Mexico. We can not stand by while the river continues to dry up and we lose the last native fish in the Rio Grande in New Mexico. Extinction is forever.”

On Tuesday, biologists with the US Fish and Wildlife Service began rescuing the endangered fish, 95 percent of which are stranded in a small stretch of the river, and releasing them in sections of the river where the water is still flowing. The Bureau of Reclamation has started to pump water into the Rio Grande from a channel paralleling the river in the hopes of keeping the river continuously flowing. However, even if the river has enough water in its main channel, the narrowing could create isolated side pools where the minnows could be trapped and killed.

American Rivers, the US’ leading river conservation group, have named the Rio Grande ‘Most Endangered River of 2000’, and along with the Endangered Species Coalition blame a New Mexico Republican Senator for hampering their efforts. Pete Domenici has introduced a proposal, or ‘Extinction rider’, which would block implementation of emergency conservation measures to increase water flows in the Rio Grande. American Rivers have called this a “one-way ticket to oblivion” for the endangered minnow.

American Rivers are also opposing current plans for proposed $350 million El Paso-Las Cruces Regional Water Project, which it says would cause further harm to the river ecosystem by diverting more water out of the river while encouraging even more population growth.

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie