Federal water managers Wednesday began releasing water from a northern New Mexico reservoir in an effort to keep water in the Rio Grande for the endangered silvery minnow while ensuring that valley farmers also have water for their crops.
The early-season release from Abiquiu Reservoir on the Rio Chama comes as natural flows in the Rio Grande are dropping, with little of what would normally be a spring surge in melting snow.
“It is going to be a very difficult year for all of us,” David Gensler, water manager for the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District, said in a Tuesday email to water managers as they discussed the best ways to meet farmers’ rising irrigation demand while also providing water for the minnow.
Federal law, intended to protect the minnow from extinction, requires a Rio Grande refuge for the minnow to remain wet from Cochiti to Elephant Butte reservoirs through June.
But as Colorado begins making its own diversions for irrigation to the north while drought saps normal natural flows, the river has been dropping this week.
Federal forecasters have warned water managers to expect less than half the Rio Grande’s long-term average flow this year, and state and federal officials have been scrambling to juggle the competing water needs of human users and the minnow.
The conservancy district had been trying to keep enough water in the river to meet minnow needs while still diverting water into the ditches used by valley farmers, according to Gensler. But as the Rio Grande dropped, that became increasingly difficult.
“The farmers were starting to show some concern,” said Mary Carlson, spokeswoman for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.
— This article appeared on page C1 of the Albuquerque Journal