Concern over the fate of the silvery minnow surfaced a little over a year ago when a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services fall census failed to turn up any numbers for the endangered species. Expanding the census into a full-fledge search, wildlife officials did find small numbers of the minnow in scattered locations along the river and in Elephant Butte Reservoir.

The incident incited an outpouring of concern from wildlife officials and wildlife support groups, but federal officials said the continuing drought and an escalating human demand for water resources were taxing officials to budget enough water to meet every need.

Complicating the issue, early last year federal agencies had to deal with an expiring 10-year plan for managing the river under terms of the Endangered Species Act. Federal planners admit the issue of saving the minnow versus diverting all available water resources to cities and farmers has divided water users and conservationists and has made their job more difficult.

But after a meeting last fall where federal, state and local water planners developed a list of possible strategies to address the minnow problem, BOR and the Corps of Engineers decided they would take on the task of tackling the water needs of both humans and wildlife.

BOR officials argued that if the endangered minnow population were allowed to decline, other forms of wildlife, like larger fish and native and migrating birds that depend on them, would also suffer and perhaps face a similar fate in the future.

 

Critics fear the fed's intent to address both the needs of the minnow and the needs of cities and farmers who depend on the river's water may be asking too much of the water-depleted environment. If the rains are stingy again this summer, as they have been for the last three years, water managers see little chance the of enough water to go around.