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Environmental Groups Oppose Domenici Rider; Offer to Permanently Put San Juan-Chama Water Off Limits

July 16, 2003
WildEarth Guardians
In This Release
Rivers, Wildlife  
Santa Fe, New Mexico-The plaintiffs in the silvery minnow lawsuit said today that the rider Attached by Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM) to an Energy and Water Appropriations bill is not the way to solve New Mexico’s Rio Grande problems. Plaintiffs said they had offered, subsequent to the decision by the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, well before the attachment of the Domenici rider to (a) support legislation permanently exempting San Juan-Chama water from use for the silvery minnow, and (b) not to seek a court order to use San Juan-Chama Project water for the Rio Grande silvery minnow this year -both offers in exchange for defendants promising to take measures to protect the river and the minnow from extinction. They also said that this kind of collaborative approach would have been far preferable to creating an Endangered Species Act fight, through the rider process, in the United States Congress.

On June 12, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Bureau of Reclamation had discretion to use San Juan-Chama (SJC) Project water for Endangered Species Act purposes. The decision does require that any San Juan-Chama water be used for the silvery minnow, but only concludes that the Bureau of Reclamation has discretion to consider its use. Today Senator Domenici attached a rider to the Energy Appropriations bill that not only exempts San Juan-Chama water from ESA application, but that also legislates a Fish and Wildlife Service Biological Opinion that allows large stretches of the Rio Grande to go dry.

“A rider is not the way to go”, said Richard Barish of the Sierra Club. “Washington can impose new dictates on us, but if that happens, the fighting will continue somewhere else. Solutions should come from cooperation and compromise among New Mexicans. We need to sit down together and find solutions to these problems that work for everyone. Gov. Richardson would be the ideal person to lead such an effort.”

“The rider is destructive,” said Bob Sulnick, Campaign Manager for the Alliance for the Rio Grande Heritage. “The United States Fish and Wildlife Service issued a Biological Opinion this spring that practically ensures extinction of the minnow and further degrades the river. The rider would legislatively cast the Biological Opinion in concrete. It alienates the parties, when we should be talking to each other in a spirit of compromise, rather than having to fight a rider”, said Sulnick.

“We recognize that San Juan-Chama water is important to New Mexico’s cities, farmers, and Indian nations,” said John Horning of WildEarth Guardians. “We won’t ask the court to order the use of San Juan-Chama water this year, and we would be willing to permanently give up San Juan-Chama water if other measures were taken to help the minnow to survive. We’re all in this together. We need to find ways to ensure that everyone’s needs are met.”

Kara Gillon of Defenders of Wildlife said that while adequate water was necessary for the river and the minnow to survive, there were other things that could be done. She said that that more efficient use of water by farmers and municipalities was critical. “We live in a desert, “said Gillon. ” Water is scarce and precious. We need to use our water as efficiently as possible if we are going to meet everybody’s needs.” She also pointed out that the rider process does not provide the kind of full and open debate typical of the democratic process. “It’s a back door way of creating policy,” said Gillon.

A copy of the Domenici rider is available here.