Current work in wildlife, rivers, public lands, and climate
Rio Grande Flows Look Bleak in 2018
The graph below depicts the monthly forecasts at the Otowi Gauge from 2008 to 2018 for the first four months of each year. It appears from the January forecast that 2018 will be like the lean years of 2011-2016 where the Rio Grande’s flows were less than half of average threatening the health of the river and the communities that depend on it.
“This is disheartening news, but reflects the predicted new normal of climate change induced flow declines,” said Jen Pelz, Rio Grande Waterkeeper and Wild Rivers Program Director at WildEarth Guardians. “We are in unprecedented territory that will require water managers think outside the box and figure out how to meet demands while keeping the ecosystem whole.”
These dry conditions will test the new water management guidance issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in December of 2016. The 2016 biological opinion required the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District, and the State of New Mexico, among others, to implement a litany of conservation measures to ensure river flows can sustain the survival and recovery of endangered fish and bird species that inhabit the Rio Grande. The veracity of this plan will be put to the test in 2018.
“It is relatively easy to keep everyone happy when the river is 150% of average,” added Pelz. “The rubber meets the road when water is scarce and hard choices have to be made.”
In 2013, when flows were similarly very low, water managers struggled to come up with a plan to meet the needs of the environment and water users. At that time, however, an earlier biological opinion issued in 2003 mandated a certain level of flows through Albuquerque and other measures to ensure large stretches of the river did not dry. These mandates are gone and the fate of the Rio Grande ecosystem and the imperiled species that depend on it rest largely in the hands of water managers’ good will.
WildEarth Guardians works to protect and restore the wildlife, wildplaces, wild rivers, and health of the American West.