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The Interstate Stream Commission voted Thursday to make $100,000 available for a potential lease of San Juan-Chama Project water to meet endangered species obligations on the Rio Grande this fall.
Last week, New Mexico water managers received permission from Colorado and Texas to conduct an emergency release of stored water from El Vado Reservoir.
The 12 billion gallons of water will protect the Rio Grande silvery minnow and prevent crop loss for Middle Rio Grande farmers, said state engineer John D’Antonio.
“We want that water to last all the way through Labor Day, and hopefully the monsoons will help in that regard and extend the life of that water,” D’Antonio said at Thursday’s Commission meeting.
The agency, along with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Bureau of Indian Affairs and Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District, must protect silvery minnow on the river under a 2016 biological opinion from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Additional San Juan-Chama water could help that work continue after the emergency water runs out.
About $30,000 for the lease will be reallocated from Rio Grande Basin project budgets approved by the ISC earlier this summer. The remaining $70,000 comes from a pot of unallocated dollars in the Improvement to the Rio Grande Income Fund.
“My belief right now is that it’s more important to be able to secure some water and allow that to be able to put into the river at certain locations and maintain compliance … than to do perhaps some additional habitat restoration or some other projects,” said ISC Director Rolf Schmidt-Petersen.
The Bureau of Reclamation could contribute $500,000 for the San Juan-Chama water lease agreement.
The Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District board will decide in August whether to allocate $250,000 for the lease.
Theresa Davis is a Report for America corps member covering water and the environment for the Albuquerque Journal.