A race to save fish as Rio Grande dies, even in Albuquerque
On a recent, scorching afternoon in Albuquerque, off-road vehicles cruised up and down a stretch of dry riverbed where normally the Rio Grande flows.
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — On a recent, scorching afternoon in Albuquerque, off-road vehicles cruised up and down a stretch of dry riverbed where normally the Rio Grande flows. The drivers weren’t thrill-seekers, but biologists hoping to save as many endangered fish as they could before the sun turned shrinking pools of water into dust.
For the first time in four decades, America’s fifth-longest river went dry in Albuquerque last week. Habitat for the endangered Rio Grande silvery minnow — a shimmery, pinky-sized native fish — went with it. Although summer storms have made the river wet again, experts warn the drying this far north is a sign of an increasingly fragile water supply, and that current conservation measures may not be enough to save the minnow and still provide water to nearby farms, backyards and parks.
The minnow inhabits only about 7% of its historic range and has withstood a century of habitat loss as the nearly 1,900 mile-long (3,058-kilometer) river was dammed, diverted and channeled from Colorado to New Mexico, Texas and northern Mexico. In 1994, the U.S. government listed it as endangered. Scientists, water managers and environmental groups have worked to keep the fish alive — as required by the Endangered Species Act — but the efforts haven’t kept pace with demand for water and climate change.