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Collaboration the way to protect river

In the 1950s drought, the Rio Grande dried north through Albuquerque and farmers ran out of water in the spring.

We’ve done better than that during this drought. But it’s taken hard work and collaboration.

WildEarth Guardian’s February letter to the editor implies that, with a few changes in water management, the Rio Grande would become “dynamic and flow year round,” the silvery minnow would be protected and other benefits would accrue to the Rio Grande ecosystem.

The Middle Rio Grande Endangered Species Collaborative Program and others wrestled with these issues, instituted water management changes and constructed projects to aid the silvery minnow.

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Collaborative program members have worked for 14-plus years to stretch available water supply. They adapted upstream reservoir operations to help endangered species and provided funding to install meters.

The Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District reduced river diversions by 40 percent, delivered water to farmers and kept water in the river.

The City of Albuquerque reduced its consumption.

New Mexico acquired and managed water to help the species, farmers and the economy.

In addition, the collaborative program implemented habitat restoration projects, operated fish hatcheries and is developing self-sustaining minnow populations.

Our focus is on long-term, sustainable solutions for the species, farmers and economy.

Toward this end, collaborative program participants are moving forward with a Recovery Implementation Program emphasizing species recovery and operational efficiencies.

The Recovery Implementation Program will apply the best tools and science available to meet the species’ needs, even in drought conditions.

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Last year’s emergency water management team tailored recommendations for river management. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agreed the recommendations were the best possible outcome under the severe conditions.

The Recovery Implementation Program brings together coordinated and responsive efforts to benefit the species and give certainty to water users.

Last July, we invited WildEarth Guardians to join this effort. WildEarth Guardians responded by filing notices of intent to sue.

Suing won’t solve Endangered Species Act issues.

The Recovery Implementation Program, which considers all variables and weighs all the options, is the real and better solution.

We again invite WildEarth Guardians to join us in this effort. We’ve proven we can do better than a dry riverbed during extreme drought when we work together.

Estevan Lopez is also director of the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission.

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