Monday, May 2, 2016

$6M plan aims to protect tiny fish By Ollie Reed Jr. / Journal Staff Writer Published: Sunday, May 1st, 2016 at 12:02am Updated: Saturday, April 30th, 2016 at 10:11pm

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Bluntnose shiners are minnows, tiny fish barely more than 3 inches long. But, as a federally threatened species restricted to a 170-mile stretch of the Pecos River in New Mexico, they carry a lot of weight. The Endangered Species Act requires specific river flows to sustain the shiners’ habitat, flows that are difficult to maintain during severe drought years. That’s why the Bureau of Reclamation and the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission have joined forces on a plan to construct a $6 million pipeline to move water leased from privately owned property 10 miles north of the village of Fort Sumner to Sumner Reservoir, about 16 miles northwest of Fort Sumner. The 16-inch pipeline would convey water from nine existing wells on the private property to the reservoir about eight miles to the west. The project is still subject to a bureau internal feasibility study and other hurdles. But, if it goes forward, the stream commission and the bureau would take credit for the water stored in Sumner to create a 30,000 acre-feet fish pool in Santa Rosa Reservoir, about seven miles north of the town of Santa Rosa. That pool would be used to supplement flows in the Pecos during exceptionally dry times. “We are looking for alternative sources of water to assist us in extreme drought conditions, such as existed between 2011 and 2013, to provide flow targets between Sumner Dam and Brantley Dam,” Michelle Estrada-Lopez, bureau Pecos Basin project manager, told the Journal . “The bluntnose shiner exists only in the Pecos between those two dams.” Brantley Dam is about 13 miles north of Carlsbad. Estrada-Lopez said the bluntnose shiner had been increasing prior to 2011, when harsh drought locked in for two years. “Then they started failing,” she said. “But they have been increasing again since heavy rains in September 2013. The (Pecos) River has been in continuous flow since then.” In New Mexico, however, brutal drought is always a possibility. The Sumner pipeline would help sustain the shiner during arid periods. The stream commission has signed a 25-year agreement to lease water from the VP Bar LLC and has also contracted with the bureau, which would provide all the funding for the project. In addition to construction costs, annual operating and maintenance costs are expected to be $300,000. Many details remain to be worked out. “We are looking at construction costs, sources of funding, the types of permits that would be needed, whose land the pipeline would cross and if we can get permission from landowners,” Estrada-Lopez said. The lease agreement with VP Bar calls for 3,553 acre-feet of water to be delivered to Sumner Lake each year. An acre-foot is the amount of water it takes to cover an acre to a depth of one foot. Estrada-Lopez said that is less water than VP Bar has been using each year for agricultural purposes. The agreement is subject to re-evaluation if the pipeline plan fails to proceed. In the meantime, bureau and stream commission officials are exploring the possibility of transferring some of the VP Bar water rights to the Vaughan Conservation Pipeline facility southwest of Fort Sumner. The Vaughan delivery system has been used to supplement shiner habitat for several years. Officials also noted that, in addition to maintaining shiner habitat, the VP Bar lease agreement would provide additional water to downstream users and help New Mexico meet the terms of the 1948 Pecos River Compact with Texas, which provides for the equitable division of Pecos River waters.

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