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News Release of Senator Domenici: 
 

 
Senate Gives Final Approval to Silvery Minnow Language,
Domenici-Bingaman Work Heads to White House


Tuesday, November 18, 2003
 
 
WASHINGTON - The Senate today gave final approval to a bill that includes an effort by U.S. Senators Pete Domenici and Jeff Bingaman to statutorily define a recovery plan for the Rio Grande silvery minnow and prohibit federal agencies from seizing water owned by New Mexico communities, tribes and farmers to sustain the minnow.

The Senate gave final approval to the FY2004 Energy and Water Development  Appropriations Bill, clearing it for President Bush to sign into law. 

Domenici is chairman of the Senate Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee that with its House counterpart crafted the $27.8 billion measure. The bill headed to the President contains provisions to statutorily determine that silvery minnow habitat recovery requirements under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) have been-and are continuing to be-met through the 2003 Biological Opinion issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
 
The bill prohibits the use of San Juan-Chama Diversion Project water to meet ESA requirements on the Rio Grande; and, allow for the federal purchase of privately held water if there is a willing seller.

The amendment was written in response to an opinion by a three-judge panel of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals that supported a U.S. District judge decree that under the ESA, the silvery minnow's water requirements have higher priority for water than any other user of Rio Grande and San Juan-Chama Diversion water.

"I believe we are doing well by the minnow and by our communities. Our goal has been to continue to carry out work to improve the middle Rio Grande for the minnow but without doing so by hurting the cities, farmers, tribes and other water users that also rely on the river," DOMENICI said. "I'm pleased this effort will soon become law, and now hope we can expedite efforts by the Workgroup to save the fish."

"The final version of this legislation represents a balanced approach that addresses serious issues raised over the last several months. It helps alleviate the concerns of water users who wanted certainty that supplies they were counting on will be there for them in the future. It also takes steps to protect the endangered silvery minnow by working to restore the natural habitat of the Middle Rio Grande," BINGAMAN said. "Now that this legislation is on the verge of becoming law, it is time for the parties with an interest in the Middle Rio Grande to get back to the negotiating table so that a long-term resolution to this problem can be worked out."

The bill protects San Juan-Chama water users, by:
 
. Decreeing that habitat requirements for the silvery minnow will be met by implementing the reasonable and prudent alternatives described in the March 2003 Biological Opinion issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service;
 
. Prohibiting the Interior Secretary from unilaterally redirecting San Juan-Chama water to meet Endangered Species Act requirements in the Rio Grande; and,

. Allowing for the federal purchase of privately-held water from willing sellers.

The amendment also establishes a seven-member executive committee to improve the efficiency and expedience of projects sponsored by the Endangered Species Act Collaborative Program Workgroup.
 
The workgroup was formed to coordinate efforts to improve the middle Rio Grande habitat overall, and specifically to support the silver minnow.  Such projects can river habitat modifications, leasing water, creating refugiums for minnow breeding, water quality research, improving river connectivity around diversions, and nonnative plant removal.

"I have been diligent about making sure the Workgroup is funded so that it can propound workable solutions for improving the river habitat. I believe progress has been too slow, and I expect this executive committee to help the workgroup focus and accomplish some good," Domenici said.

In terms of funding minnow-related work, Domenici included $34.48 million in Bureau of Reclamation funding for the Middle Rio Grande project. This funding level includes $7 million for middle Rio Grande workgroup for silvery minnow activities, $7 million for levee repairs, and the remainder for operations and maintenance.

The bill also provides $300,000 in annual funding for the Corps to continue a bosque restoration and preservation program started by Domenici in 1991. The Rio Grande Bosque Initiative is a multi-agency effort to save the bosque habitat between Cochiti and Elephant Butte.

For New Mexico, the final bill includes Domenici authored provisions giving the Army Corps of Engineers authority to rehabilitate hundreds of acres of Rio Grande bosque that were destroyed by wildfire in June. The bill authorizes the Corps to clean up areas deemed to be in imminent danger of wildfire due to heavy fuel loads-primarily nonnative salt cedar
vegetation.

The bill also gives the Corps special authority to use this funding to remove the jetty jacks and other impediments that hindered emergency response to the June wildfires.
 
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