Thrown on driveways this morning, my effort to explain why I think the endangered species act process, as it relates to the silver minnow on the Rio Grande, is broken:
If you believe those who argue we are overusing water in the Middle Rio Grande Valley and headed for a crash (and there’s good data to support that position), it’s likely 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 and regulatory manifestation of that problem would be a lack of water to meet Endangered Species Act requirements for the Rio Grande silvery minnow.
Farmers and cities will get their water while the Rio Grande goes dry, until someone – federal regulators or an environmentalist with a lawsuit – steps in.
The cliche is to call the minnow a “canary in a coal mine,” a sign of a crashing ecosystem. But it’s also a canary for our water supply problems. As a result, as often happens around the West, society ends up using the Endangered Species Act as a sort of de facto water policy management tool. When water runs short, who has to give some up to keep our rivers wet? We use the ESA to decide that question.