City of Albuquerque, Environmentalists Settle Silvery Minnow Dispute
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. The city of Albuquerque and environmental groups reached a settlement Wednesday in a five-year legal battle over the endangered Rio Grande silvery minnow.
Organizations including the Sierra Club and National Audubon Society agreed to pursue no further legal action against the city in exchange for measures they said will help the tiny fish species to survive.
"To be an environmentalist you have to be an optimist," said David Henderson, executive director of the New Mexico chapter of the National Audubon Society. "This has been a good situation where being an optimist has paid off."
The minnow's primary habitat is the Rio Grande south of Albuquerque, a stretch of the river that sometimes runs dry because of drought and the need to provide water under interstate contracts. For its survival, the fish requires water to be diverted from farmers and towns.
Under the settlement, Albuquerque will set aside 30,000 acre-feet of water in a city reservoir to help preserve the minnow. Environmentalists said that will make the reservoir one of only a few in the West with significant space devoted to an environmental effort. An acre-foot is the amount of water that can cover an acre to a depth of 1 foot.
"What we're doing this morning is of historic proportions," Mayor Martin Chavez agreed.
The city also agreed to commit $250,000 from the Albuquerque-Bernalillo County Water Authority and $25,000 from environmental groups to a water-leasing program for the middle Rio Grande. The program would increase water flow, which will help further protect the minnow and other species.
Environmentalists had sued in 1999 in federal court in Albuquerque to protect the endangered species and a judge ruled in their favor. An appeals court panel upheld that ruling.
However, the court rulings were circumvented after Congress prohibited the use of water to meet the needs of the minnow on the Rio Grande.
"I hope the agreement augers well for future cooperative efforts to support the minnow without crippling water rights holders on the middle Rio Grande," said Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., chairman of the Senate Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee.
Source: Associated Press