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Dam Project Threatens Imperiled Rio Grande Fish

November 22, 2016
Jen Pelz, 303-884-2702, jpelz@wildearthguardians.org
In This Release
Rivers   Rio Grande chub
DENVER—WildEarth Guardians called on federal and state agencies today to halt the dam removal and weir construction project of the McDonald Ditch Company (Project) set to resume on the Rio Grande next week, Monday, November 28, 2016. The Project threatens to destroy a newly discovered population of imperiled Rio Grande chub. The fish was thought to be eliminated from the main stem of the Rio Grande over a half century ago until earlier this year when a fisherman documented several chub in a small pool directly above the old McDonald diversion dam. However, the Project was authorized before anyone realized this species still existed in the Rio Grande.

“It’s a miracle that the Rio Grande chub persists at all on the main stem of the Rio Grande given the human-caused changes to the river over the past century and the complete lack of sightings for over 50 years,” said Jen Pelz, Director of the Wild Rivers Program at WildEarth Guardians. “It is reckless and irresponsible for this construction project to continue in the face of this new information.”

The Rio Grande chub is native to the river and is recognized as critically imperiled by several federal, state and local agencies. It is considered a “species of special concern” by the State of Colorado, a “sensitive species” by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service, and “critically imperiled” by the Colorado Natural Heritage Program. In 2013, based on the status of the species and the continuing threats to its survival, WildEarth Guardians submitted a scientific petition to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service requesting listing of the Rio Grande chub under the Endangered Species Act. On March 16, 2016, the Fish and Wildlife Service found that the petition contained “substantial information” indicating that listing may be warranted. Currently, the Rio Grande chub is still working its way through the process of obtaining the full protections of the Act.

The Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration Project began working with the McDonald Ditch Company in 2010 to address concerns regarding the aging dam infrastructure on the Rio Grande. The Project was proposed with the goal of “improved diversion efficiency, reduced maintenance and improved Rio Grande Compact administration”as well as “to remove an unstable structure and to improve riparian habitat.” Notice of the presence of the Rio Grande chub and the threats the Project poses to the species was provided to the Ditch Company, the County, and state and federal agencies in October. The agencies, however, have failed to consider this new information, take any further action to analyze the potential threat to the species, or delay or halt the project to ensure no harm comes to this rare fish.

“The State of Colorado touts its ability to work with communities to manage imperiled species to avoid listing under the Endangered Species Act,” added Pelz. “The State’s apparent inability to come to the aid of a disappearing species and its business as usual attitude toward water projects just goes to show the importance of federal leadership and protection.”