By SCOTT SONNER, Associated Press
RENO, Nev. (AP) — U.S. wildlife officials say there is enough evidence that a rare fish along the California-Nevada line could be at risk of extinction to warrant a year-long review to determine if it should be listed under the Endangered Species Act.
Conservationists who applied for protection of the Fish Lake Valley tui chub in March 2021 say dwindling populations of the 5-inch-long (13 centimeters) olive-colored minnows remain in just one basin in the county of Esmeralda halfway between Reno and Las Vegas.
They blame the excessive pumping of groundwater to irrigate farms and livestock pastures primarily for a dramatic shrinkage of its habitat in the drought-stricken West, where water shortages threaten many other species.
“Overdrafting of groundwater is a huge threat to these fish and the spring they inhabit,” said Krista Kemppinen, scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity and co-author of the petition.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service announced its positive 90-day conclusion this week.
“The petition presents substantial scientific or commercial information indicating that listing the Fish Lake Valley tui chub as an endangered or threatened species may be warranted,” said the finding published in Tuesday’s Federal Register.
Threats to fish include the effects of agriculture, aquatic plant encroachment, geothermal energy, lithium mining and climate change, he said. A full review of his status is scheduled for next August.
Lake Valley groundwater levels have declined by up to 2.5 feet (76 centimeters) per year over the past half-century, causing a cumulative drawdown of more than 75 feet (23 meters) since 1973, the petition says. .
The consultant hired by Esmeralda County to develop its water resources plan in 2012 warned that the Fish Lake Valley Basin was “suffering irreparable damage from water production that exceeds annual recharge.”
“This discovery is causing the aquifer storage to collapse,” said Reno-based Farr West Engineering at the time.
Nevada Farm Bureau executive vice president Doug Busselman said most local farmers and ranchers probably haven’t heard of tui chub. But they have long feared that the water there is over-allocated – which means, at least on paper, that rights have been granted to more water than actually exists.
“Over the years I’ve been there, I’ve heard different stories from home well owners who are worried because they have to dig deeper wells,” Busselman said Wednesday.
The petition should serve “as a notice for people to become aware and study it and try to find out what can be done about the underlying issues”, he said. be the last.”
Busselman said federal involvement is often counterproductive because regulatory responses can take years.
“It’s much easier to go through a state process that deals with water rights laws rather than having to deal with… some kind of endangered species law,” he said. declared.
The petition says climate change is contributing to threats to western water supplies that are home to fish like Nevada’s.
Average temperatures are rising, and eight of Nevada’s 10 warmest years since 1895 have occurred since 2000. Drought frequency and intensity is projected to continue to increase and snowpack to decrease by 30-50% by 2100 in most basins, according to a 2020 climate study.
Western fish already listed under the Endangered Species Act and facing increasing drought threats include Chinook Salmon in California’s Central Valley, Silver Minnow in New Mexico’s Rio Grande and the San Pedro Gila chub in southern Arizona.
The USFWS said when it listed the San Pedro Gila chub in 2005 that it was one of only two native fish species remaining in the San Pedro River, which historically supported at least 13. The agency cited groundwater pumping for agricultural and municipal purposes as a contributing factor. at the loss of Gila chub.
Kemp pointed to a 2020 study published in the online journal Nature Sustainability and cited by the US Departments of Agriculture and Interior, which concluded that 53 species of fish were at increased risk of endangerment or harm. extinction due to water flow depletion caused primarily by livestock and feed irrigation. crops in the western United States.
“With dwindling water in the West, there could be a flood of new petitions for aquatic species in the years to come, as more and more aquatic species are threatened with extinction,” a said Patrick Donnelly, director of the center’s Grand Bassin. lesser chub (another subspecies at risk) are just the tip of the iceberg.
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