October 2, 2008

Minnows Using Fish Channel ; Bypass Lets at-Risk Species Swim Around Water Supply Dam

By John Fleck Journal Staff Writer

A channel built to help fish find their way around the Albuquerque metro area's new water supply dam appears to be working, officials said during a tour of the site Monday.

The dam, on the Rio Grande near Albuquerque's northern border, is one piece of a $385 million water system scheduled to be turned on in December to provide a new source of drinking water for the Albuquerque-Bernalillo County metro area.

Officials from the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service toured the dam Monday to look at the fish structure and discuss its operation.

The dam has been in place and tested for two years, and fish surveys have shown that the endangered Rio Grande silvery minnow is using the dam's fish channel, according to John Stomp, the water utility's project manager.

"We've proved that it will work," Stomp said.

A century ago, the Rio Grande silvery minnow could be found in abundance, from the Gulf of Mexico to Espaola, and on the Rio Chama as far upstream as Abiquiu. Today the fish is endangered, its habitat reduced to a stretch of the river from just north of Albuquerque down to Elephant Butte Reservoir in south-central New Mexico. Its struggle to survive is seen as a sign of the broader problems faced by the Rio Grande ecosystem.

The channel provides a slow and steady flow around the dam, allowing minnows and other fish to get past the dam, headed both upstream and downstream, according to Fish and Wildlife Service fish biologist Jim Brooks. While the minnow is the most at-risk species in the river, changes made to help benefit all the fish that live in the river, Brooks said.

(c) 2008 Albuquerque Journal. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.