From Pueblo peoples to Spanish colonialists to modern Albuquerque, no river in the United States can claim a longer or more fascinating history than the Rio Grande.
The lawsuit filed on July 24 by the environmental group WildEarth Guardians launches a broad-scale attack on valley residents, New Mexico water rights and the efforts of the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District to comply with the Endangered Species Act.
This attack is, at best, the voice of a Johnny-come-lately attempting to discredit the efforts of federal and state agencies, pueblos and the district, which collaborate, share water shortages, set aside cultural differences and keep the Rio Grande flowing, all while providing protection for irrigators and species alike.
At worst, this lawsuit is an attempt to assign blame while pitting farmers against an endangered species.
In its lawsuit, the WildEarth Guardians allege the MRGCD, its federal partners and farmers are wasting water and have not done enough to help protect the endangered Rio Grande silvery minnow. Nothing could be further from the truth.
A prime example of the MRGCD’s commitment to the Middle Valley and the minnow is river management through reservoirs. Water stored in El Vado, Heron, Abiquiu and Cochiti reservoirs, is carefully managed and regulated by the MRGCD and other agencies ensuring that the Rio Grande is more than just a dry river bed throughout much of the year.
Water is managed daily, weekly and monthly to guarantee optimum usage of this precious resource for both irrigator and species.
Federal mandates under the Endangered Species Act state clearly that causing harm to the endangered Rio Grande silvery minnow is illegal. The MRGCD recognizes and respects federal law.
The MRGCD has learned, adapted and worked together with these other agencies to provide the balanced approach necessary to protect species, while supporting irrigators and other consumptive water users. Sadly, the WildEarth Guardians initiation of litigation is a bald attempt to disrupt that synergy and the valuable benefits it has provided.
Coexistence is a collaborative effort. The MRGCD, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission and the six native Pueblos within the MRGCD boundaries have all worked in collaboration, proposed solutions and engaged in problem-solving to produce a working biological opinion where water conservation goals have been met and cooperation was achieved.
Ten years of negotiations, data sharing, contributions by biological experts and millions of dollars spent by the MRGCD have moved this collaborative process to a level of consensus.
Still, the WildEarth Guardians steadfastly refuse to participate in the ongoing collaborative process and has chosen to turn the debate to the courts rather than allow progress based on facts and best science.
How do you expect to be served if you won’t sit at the table?
The MRGCD has evolved greatly over the past 20 years in response to both drought and the need to protect endangered species.
Today, the MRGCD monitors its water consumption through an extensive network of telemetry. It works closely with Middle Valley farmers to institute better farming techniques. The district has moved from a supply-based system to a demand-based system. Today instead of simply filling canals to capacity, actual agricultural demand is calculated and only that amount of water is diverted from the river.
Strict scheduling is followed and waste is dealt with swiftly and fairly through comprehensive district regulations.
As chairman of the MRGCD Board of Directors, it is my duty to speak out. The Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District will not sit idly by and allow generations of traditions and livelihoods to be jeopardized.
New Mexicans deserve the truth, which is that blood, sweat and tears are shed on a daily basis so that this priceless resource, the Rio Grande, continues to flow.
Derrick J. Lente, a farmer, is a member of Sandia Pueblo.