Endangered shiner gets government help
Endangered Shiner Gets Government Help, by Pete David.
Federal and state agencies in New Mexico are collaborating on an effort that will hopefully help support recovery of the Pecos bluntnose shiner (Notropis simus pecosensis) in the Pecos River located in the eastern part of the state. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) listed the fish as threatened in 1987 and submitted a subsequent determination in 1989 that water operations in the river were likely to jeopardize the future existence of the fish. The primary operations to be affected were water deliveries by the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) to the Carlsbad Irrigation District (CID) and water releases by the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission (NMISC) to meet their interstate compact requirements to Texas.
The Pecos bluntnose shiner, pictured above (from Bureau of Reclamation) is a subspecies of the Rio Grande bluntnose shiner (Notropis simus simus), one of a number of fish from the family Cyprinidae whose populations crashed during the 1950’s and 1960’s likely as a result of irrigation withdrawals and mainstream dams. Four Cyprinid species were extirpated from New Mexico and one, the Rio Grande silvery minnow (Hybognathus amarus) is a federally endangered species due to much reduced abundance and distribution. By the 1980’s the extensive historic range of the bluntnose shiner had been reduced to several short segments within an undammed 333 km of the Pecos River south of Lake Sumner where at least some inconsistent perennial flow occurs due to local groundwater seepage. Population surveys conducted in 2007 by NMISC and SWCA Environmental Consultants estimated the population at 65,605 + 16,873.
Studies initiated in 1992 by the FWS and the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish provided a critical understanding of the shiner’s life history requirements and led to a series of recommendations and additional studies that were implemented by the NMISC. These long-term studies were the basis for the analysis in a 2006 Environmental Impact Statement that mandated water operation modifications to maintain continuous flow to the river and protect the shiner while providing the water supply for CID.
A series of management measures were implemented to meet the federally mandated requirements including:
- Leasing by BOR of nearly $400,000 worth of water rights from regional farmers
- Leasing of water by NMISC using the state’s Strategic Water Reserve Program
- Creating a water banking exchange program to store and release water at critical times
- Establishing a fish conservation pool in upstream reservoirs to be used exclusively for the shiner
In addition, NMISC completed the Vaughn Conservation Pipeline funded by the Strategic Water Reserve Program to acquire water from networked wells and provide supplemental flow to the river. The project received a Cooperative Conservation Award from BOR in 2008. The planning and implementation of these creative measures resulted in the revised determination by the FWS that the water operations in the Pecos River were no longer jeopardizing the existence of the shiner. Due to multi-agency cooperation, support and creative flexibility there is hope that the shiner’s habitat requirements are being addressed. Annual population studies will continue to be conducted to assess the success of these water management modifications.