New Mexico’s in the midst of a tense and interesting discussion about the Rio Grande silvery minnow, the Endangered Species Act and managing the Rio Grande. I’ve got a post up over at the work blog going meta on the underlying issues – why I think ESA discussions have become our proxy discussions for big water policy issues (sub/ad req):
Why is this such a big deal? Hint: It’s not really about a fish. Or, more precisely, it’s about much more than a fish. If you believe those who argue that we’re overusing water in the Middle Rio Grande Valley and headed for a crash, it’s likely that the problem will first show up in the river itself, as we take out too much surface and groundwater and leave the Rio Grande dry. The first specific legal/regulatory manifestation of that problem will be a lack of water to meet Endangered Species Act requirements for the Rio Grande silver minnow. The minnow has been described as a “canary in a coal mine” for a crashing ecosystem. But it’s also a canary for our water supply problems. So we see here a jockeying over the question of who’s responsible for the problems of the fish that mirrors broader jockeying over who’s responsible for the region’s water problems.
I’ve thought this for a while, but the work I’ve been doing on Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta issues has really helped clarify my thinking by giving me a second case study where the issues are playing out in much the same way.
But are there other case studies of water policy/ESA management on western rivers where it’s not playing out this way? What are the counter examples?