By Tova Fruchtman: Freedom Newspapers
TUCUMCARI —The Eastern New Mexico Rural Water Authority heard concerns Wednesday about the possibility of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declaring the Canadian River a critical habitat for the Arkansas River shiner.
Doug Murray of the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission said the Arkansas River shiner critical habitat designation may put requirements on the state to release water from Ute Lake reserved for a proposed pipeline project into the river.
However, Murray said this outcome is preventable and said he and the ISC are working with the Canadian River Municipal Water Authority to help protect the ENMRA’s water.
“The New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission will do everything it can to protect New Mexico water sources,” he said.
ENMRWA wants to pipe water from Ute Lake to at least 10 communities in eastern New Mexico, including Clovis and Portales.
The Canadian River water authority is proposing a comprehensive plan to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in an attempt to prevent the critical habitat designation for the shiner, a silver colored minnow which reaches a maximum length of 2 inches.
But Murray had concerns that plan may effect Ute Lake.
He told ENMRWA that at a meeting Monday in Albuquerque, state stream commissioners came to a “conceptual” agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services and the CRMWA. The stream commission agreed to support a revised management plan, Murray said.
One major issue was changing the language in the plan to maintaining the “existing” base flow in the river rather than the “historic,” implying as it was before the lake was dammed.
“This has always been our concern … depending on conditions of critical habitat may effect availability of all water available to eastern New Mexico,” Murray said.
John Williams of the CRMWA said he doesn’t think his group’s plan will affect the water in Ute Lake, or the water being reserved by members of the authority.
Elizabeth Slown, spokesperson of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service, said the quantity of water is not an issue in New Mexico, so there shouldn’t be any concern about taking water from the rural water authority.
She said if more water was needed the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service would purchase it.
Murray said this isn’t the only problem the ISC is anticipating related to the project.
“A project this large, there’s going to be challenges,” said Murray, giving an example of the possibility of archeological sites being found during the building of the pipeline causing the design to change.”