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Federal Plan Threatens Future of the Rio Grande

June 10, 2016
Jen Pelz (303) 884-2702 jpelz@wildearthguardians.org
In This Release
Rivers   Southwestern willow flycatcher, Yellow-billed cuckoo
Friday, June 10, 2016
Federal Plan Threatens Future of the Rio Grande

Group Calls for Reclamation to Consider Moving Storage Upstream
Contact: Jen Pelz (303) 884-2702 jpelz@wildearthguardians.org

SANTA FE, N.M.—WildEarth Guardians this week called on the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to stoprelying exclusively on storage in Elephant Butte Reservoir to satisfy the needsof its Rio Grande Project and San Juan-Chama Project contractors. The commentsask Reclamation to consider moving storage to upstream reservoirs on the RioChama (where less water will evaporate) to allow for better timing andavailability of water to support native fish, wildlife and plants on Rio Grandein central New Mexico. The request came in the form of comments to a draftenvironmental impact statement released by Reclamation in March of 2016.

“Given the changing climate, we need to seriously consider the utility ofcontinuing to store water from our ailing rivers in gigantic reservoirs in thedesert,” said Jen Pelz, Wild Rivers Program Director at WildEarth Guardians. “Justlike Lake Powell on the Colorado River, Elephant Butte Reservoir is a relic ofthe past century.”

Reclamation’s environmental impact statement evaluates the effects of thecontinued operation of Elephant Butte Reservoir under the 2008 OperatingAgreement—an agreement between Reclamation, Elephant Butte Irrigation District(“EBID”), and the El Paso County Water Irrigation District (“EPCWID”)—that hopesto settle disputes between the parties and set out a revised system forallocating water under the Rio Grande Project. The review also included ananalysis of the impact of storage 50,000 acre-feet of San Juan-Chama Projectwater in Elephant Butte on behalf of the Albuquerque Bernalillo County WaterUtility Authority (“Water Authority”). These changes would set the managementof the Rio Grande for the next 35 years until 2050.

The group’s critique highlighted that Reclamation’s environmental reviewcompletely failed to consider the effects of storing and redistributing theWater Authority’s San Juan-Chama Project water on flows in the Rio Grande incentral New Mexico (the 175-mile reach between Cochiti and Elephant ButteReservoirs). San Juan-Chama Project water stored in Elephant Butte must bemoved upstream by an accounting mechanism known as an exchange for it toactually benefit the Water Authority and yet those impacts were completelyignored.

Further, the group pointed out that the increased storage in ElephantButte Reservoir—as a result of the project combined with the impacts of climatechange—is predicted to result in the destruction of habitat around thereservoir utilized by the imperiled Southwestern willow flycatcher andyellow-billed cuckoo. The population of flycatchers and cuckoos on the RioGrande is one of the largest in the region and increasing reservoir storage ispredicted inundate the habitat (previously exposed by the reservoirs decline)and destroy 265 flycather and 106 cuckoo territories over the next 35 years.

“The survival and recovery of the flycatcher, cuckoo and a living RioGrande over the next century depends on our concerted effort to restore flowsand the historic floodplain habitat of the Rio Grande,” added Pelz. “Environmentalreviews can and should be used as an opportunity to evaluate possible changesof course going forward, not to rubber stamp and solidify the status quo.”

A copy of out comment letter can be seen here.