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WildEarth Guardians Demands Leadership from Interior

July 15, 2014
Jen Pelz 303-884-2702
In This Release
#RethinkRivers, #ReviveTheRio
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.—WildEarth Guardians this week asked the U.S. Department of the Interior to play a more prominent leadership role in holding state and federal agencies accountable and facilitating solutions that help restore the fragile Rio Grande ecosystem. The request came in the form of a letter to Deputy Secretary Mike Connor.

The group’s letter highlighted a number of solutions that it believes should be developed and implemented throughout the Rio Grande Basin, including the establishment and operation of an environmental water acquisition program. Guardians believes the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service should include such a program as apart of the forthcoming biological opinion on water management in central New Mexico. The Service has required similar programs throughout the west serving to supplement flows in rivers and protect imperiled species.

“Progress toward restoring flows in the Rio Grande has stood still for far too long and it is time for Interior to expend political capital to move the ball forward,” said Pelz. “A water acquisition program is a voluntary,market-based solution that should be supported by interests on both sides of the aisle.”

The letter also specifically asks the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to change its approach to water management based on its existing authority as operator of the Middle Rio Grande Project and as an owner of water rights and water management facilities. While Reclamation has in the past exercised its authority to protest water transfers that would create additional water depletions, it now is silent when the State permits water transfers despite the impact on the river. Further, Reclamation and the State have failed to require the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District to provide proof of beneficial use of the water that serves as a source for the District’s water bank.

“The wild west approach to managing water in the Rio Grande Basin cannot continue without further serious consequences for flows in the river,” said Pelz. “Interior is in a unique position to implement and navigate new strategies and to reform the archaic system of water management under which it currently operates.”

Other solutions detailed in the letter include: 1) expanding the scope of the solutions by engaging the State’s of Colorado and New Mexico in order to find a way to ensure the Rio Grande receives its fair share of water, 2) providing funding so the Bureau of Land Management can determine the flows necessary in the Rio Grande Wild and Scenic River to preserve recreational, scenic and other outstandingly remarkable values of the designated reach, and 3) investigating and planning to remove or modify the dams and reservoirs that segment the Rio Grande to reconnect isolated habitat. The group believes Interior should be playing a much more hands on roll in facilitating solutions that transcend political boundaries.

“There is no panacea that will right the wrongs of the past century on behalf of the Rio Grande,” said Jen Pelz, Wild Rivers Program Director at WildEarth Guardians. “The fate of the river, however, depends on the willingness and leadership of state and federal agencies to create a water right that belongs to the Rio Grande.”