On July 26, 2022, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, fish scientists work to save endangered Rio Grande silvery minnows from water pools in the parched Rio Grande riverbed. For the first time in forty years, the river dried up, taking with it the habitat of the native fish of shimmering pinky size known as the endangered silvery minnow. Brittany Peterson/Associated Press Aug. 4, 2022, 3:48 PM Source: Associated Press, CEST N.M.’s ALBUQUERQUE Off-road vehicles zoomed up and down a section of dry riverbed where the Rio Grande ordinarily runs on a recent hot afternoon in Albuquerque. Biologists driving the vehicles instead of thrill-seekers wanted to conserve as many endangered fish as they could before the sun converted the receding water bodies into dust.
In Albuquerque last week, America’s fifth-longest river dried up for the first time in forty years. habitat for the critically endangered Rio Grande silvery minnow, a shimmering, native fish the size of a pinky. Even while summer rains have brought the river back to life, scientists warn that the drying thus far north is an indication of a dwindling water supply and that existing conservation efforts might not be sufficient to conserve the minnow while still providing water to adjacent farms, backyards, and parks.
The almost 1,900-mile (3,058-kilometer) river was dammed, redirected, and channeled from Colorado to New Mexico, Texas, and northern Mexico over the course of a century, resulting in the minnow inhabiting only about 7% of its historical range. The United States government designated it as endangered in 1994. According to the Endangered Species Act, scientists, water managers, and environmental organizations have attempted to preserve the fish alive, but their efforts haven’t kept up with the demand for water and the effects of climate change.
What little of its habitat is left due to years of drought, extreme heat, and an unpredictable monsoon season, giving officials no choice except to pray for rain.
According to Thomas Archdeacon, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist in charge of a program to save the fish, they are adapted for many environments but not to understand this. They don’t know how to escape a situation where there is flow one day and no flow the next for kilometers.
Fish are removed from warm puddles and moved to still-flowing areas of the river using hand nets and seines when parts of the river dry up. Due to the stress of warm, stagnant water and being transported against their will, the minnows’ survival percentage after being rescued is low—just over 5%.
However, the Archdeacon warned that leaving the fish in the pools would result in their demise. The water picked up again at the outflow of a sewage treatment plant, and he and the other biologists drove over miles of dried-out riverbed to get there. Only a few of the 400 fish that were saved would make it, and their best chance came from swimming in cleaned sewage.
The government has produced and released a lot of silvery minnows throughout the years, but, according to officials, habitat is always the key to the recovery of the species.
And there aren’t many ways left to add a lot more water to the river.
According to John Fleck, a water policy specialist at the University of New Mexico, climate change is currently outpacing the tools we have built over the past few decades.
In the past, releasing water from reservoirs upstream has been one method of increasing the river’s flow. However, due to a downstream debt it has agreed to pay to Texas as part of an agreement, New Mexico has been unable to hold additional water this year. The river wasn’t refilled by rainstorms that came in June, which was deep into the driest period the West had experienced since 1,200 years.
The storms’ timing and location weren’t suitable to maintain the river’s flow, according to Dave Dubois, the state climatologist of New Mexico.
The state and irrigation districts are proposing to pay farmers to leave fields unplanted in order to retain more water in the Rio Grande, but few have taken them up on the offer so far. Small-scale farming predominates in New Mexico, and many farmers water their fields using centuries-old earthen canals that flow through their backyards, sustaining the land for both ecological and cultural reasons.
Farmers might preserve water for the minnow and reduce their debt to Texas by fallowing their fields. However, according to officials, only 5% of the land in one important riverside zone was left fallow this year.
Jason Casuga, the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District’s chief engineer, emphasized that we need additional personnel to complete it. However, Casuga said that the program is only in its second year, and farmers want to grow crops.
Ron Moya has been raising hay and crops on around 50 acres (20 hectares) of land close to Albuquerque for the past four years. Moya, a former engineer, claimed he followed a calling to labor the same land that his family had farmed for generations before him. Moya said he wouldn’t do it this year even if he was promised more money because he wanted the moisture to keep the soil on his farm alive. Last year, he left 10 acres (4 hectares) of his plot unplanted in exchange for several thousand dollars. Moya is dubious about how much following someone else will accomplish.
Some individuals rely on farming hay for their living. They are aware of that. Can you picture the entire valley being plowed under? He remarked, “That just seems ridiculous.”
Albuquerque, the capital and largest city of New Mexico, too has little water to offer. According to data published by the city’s water provider, the city of over 563,000 people, like neighboring Western metropoles, has significantly reduced its per-capita water use, from about 250 gallons (946 liters) per day in 1994 to 119 gallons (450 liters) in 2019. Additionally, groundwater and Colorado River water are used in Albuquerque.
The low hanging fruit has already been picked in Albuquerque, according to Mike Hamman, the state water engineer of New Mexico, so the going is now a little tougher.