Securing Environmental Flows for the Rio Grande Silvery Minnow

Date: 2023/04/01

Author(s): Veihl, A.

Publication: University of New Mexico Thesis



Since 1997, the Bureau of Reclamation (Bureau) has been leasing water to provide habitat for the now-endangered Rio Grande silvery minnow (Minnow). The majority of leased water comes from the San-Juan Chama project, a trans-basin water delivery system that was originally implemented to secure flows to the Rio Grande for municipal and agricultural use. Limitations on water storage within reservoirs incentivize contractors that are allocated more surface water than they can use to lease the extra quantity. It is through this water leasing market that the Bureau has established the largest environmental flow program in the state of New Mexico. This paper explores the specifics of the Bureau's supplemental water leasing program, including the sources of the leased water, the frequency at which supplemental water is needed, and the quantities and prices of water being applied to the river; the latter of which will be used to analyze the program from an economic viewpoint. Using hydrologic data from the U.S. Geological Survey [USGS], the supplemental project water can be compared to the overall streamflow of the river, demonstrating its efficiency in relation to the goal of keeping the river sufficiently continuous. This paper also attempts to understand how the supplemental water could be used downstream of its application. Because the Minnow’s water use is largely non-consumptive, leased water flowing out of the Middle Rio Grande is available for use. If the water is actively used (i.e. not lost via conveyance), it is likely that it will generate commercial and public benefits as well as non-market economic benefits (Ward and Booker, 2006; Berrens et. al., 1996). Reviewing studies that estimate these benefits may be useful in garnering support for either the Bureau's program or a similar one that may be done by another organization in the future.