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Officials help endangered minnow amid strong Rio Grande

August 4, 2019
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FILE - In this April 7, 2003, file photo, tagged Rio Grande silvery minnows await release into the Rio Grande on Sandia Pueblo land in N.M. A federal agency is taking advantage of high water levels in the Rio Grande to help the tiny minnow listed as an endangered species. U.S. Bureau of Reclamation workers in July 2019 aided in creating more habitat for the Rio Grande silvery minnow on the Middle Rio Grande. (Dean Hanson/The Albuquerque Journal via AP, File)
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FILE - In this April 7, 2003, file photo, tagged Rio Grande silvery minnows await release into the Rio Grande on Sandia Pueblo land in N.M. A federal agency is taking advantage of high water levels in the Rio Grande to help the tiny minnow listed as an endangered species. U.S. Bureau of Reclamation workers in July 2019 aided in creating more habitat for the Rio Grande silvery minnow on the Middle Rio Grande. (Dean Hanson/The Albuquerque Journal via AP, File)

SAN ANTONIO, N.M. (AP) — A federal agency is taking advantage of high water levels in the Rio Grande to help a tiny minnow listed as an endangered species.

U.S. Bureau of Reclamation workers recently aided in creating more habitat for the Rio Grande silvery minnow on the Middle Rio Grande, the Albuquerque Journal reports.

Reclamation crews worked from January to March of this year to lower and widen the riverbank on the southern end of private property near Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. They excavated 46,000 cubic yards (35,170 cubic meters) of dirt to create water channels where minnows could escape the fast-moving river.

The tiny fish, listed as endangered in 1994, was once abundant throughout the Rio Grande Basin from Colorado to Texas and into Mexico. It’s now found only in a fraction of its historic habitat as the river system has seen dam building and the straightening of its once meandering channels over the last 150 years.

Doris Rhodes owns 629 acres near San Antonio in Socorro County. For years, she has been advocating for her property to host a Reclamation silvery minnow project. Earlier this year, her work paid off.

Rhodes’ land is on the Rio Grande near Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, making it an ideal location for restoration and conservation, Reclamation project manager Ashlee Rudolph said.

“What makes this project great is that it is a partnership between a private landowner who wanted to create habitat on her land and the federal and state agencies,” Rudolph said. “It is so rare to have that partnership.”

Reclamation worked with the nonprofit Save Our Bosque Task Force, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s New Mexico Natural Resources Conservation Service and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to excavate zigzag patterns on nearly a mile of the river.

The Rhodes property is one of few remaining historic wetlands in the San Acacia Reach of the Rio Grande, a primary habitat for silvery minnow.

The property has no levees on the east side of the river, which has helped in the restoration of the area’s natural flood plain, Reclamation Albuquerque Area spokeswoman Mary Carlson said.

“The river used to braid and meander throughout the land,” Carlson said. “Now it’s confined, so the river is deeper and flows faster. Some species are not too happy about that. The little areas where water is slow, that’s what minnows are looking for. The main goal is that they reconnect to the river.”

Chris Torres, who oversees river maintenance operations on the Middle Rio Grande for the Reclamation Albuquerque Area Office, said the slow-moving side channels are critical for minnow-spawning.

“Minnows like that edge habitat. It’s worked perfectly,” Torres said. “The water is backing the way it’s supposed to, and we can see fish moving down through there. As the water drops, everything returns back to the main river like it’s supposed to.”

Rudolph said that since 2016, there have been at least eight silvery minnow habitats constructed in the San Acacia Reach of the river. Reclamation is joined by the Interstate Stream Commission to create these sites and monitor the fish populations.

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Information from: Albuquerque Journal, http://www.abqjournal.com

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