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Albuquerque Tribune Online
Water move bathes mayor in delight

By Ed Asher
Tribune Reporter

Mayor Martin Chavez wasted no time in declaring "complete victory."

The battle of Albuquerque's share of San Juan-Chama water is over, Chavez contended Thursday, and the city is the winner.

"I was ecstatic," Chavez said upon learning that a rider to a bill that exempts San Juan-Chama water from use in compliance with the Endangered Species Act had cleared a crucial conference committee of the House and Senate.

"I am a very happy mayor. This is extraordinarily good news. Our water future is secure. This issue is put to rest," Chavez said.

According to initial reports, the issue was taken off of the table for only two years. But a spokesman for Sen. Pete Domenici, who authored the rider to the energy appropriations bill and shepherded it through Senate and conference committees, said those reports were inaccurate and confirmed that the exemption would be permanent under the bill.

"Unless somebody else introduces new legislation to try to change it," the exemption from the Endangered Species Act would be permanent, Domenici spokesman Chris Gallegos said.

"Senator Domenici is very pleased. It was a very difficult conference committee to get through. But there were no strong objections raised to it, once people realized the situation in New Mexico," Gallegos said. "The senator feels this is a fair way to try to save the fish without crippling communities."

Chavez was a little more exuberant.

"All of Albuquerque should be dancing in the street," he said.

The House votes on the measure this week and the Senate next week and both are expected to pass it. President Bush is expected to sign it next week.

The rider in the bill would reverse a federal appellate court decision earlier this year which allowed San Juan-Chama water to be diverted to preserve the habitat of the Rio Grande silvery minnow, which is threatened with extinction.

"That shadow today was wiped out, and by golly, that is good news for the city of Albuquerque," Chavez said. "Our water future is secure . . . it's our choice, not the choice of the federal government. Our destiny has been restored to us today."

Not everyone was happy with the news.

"This really is a dark day for the river," said John Horning of the Forest Guardians. "In the substance of the rider (to the bill) and the way this came about, it's an assault on our democracy, a massive nail in the coffin of the river. People are in denial not to see it as such."

Deb Hibbard, middle valley coordinator for Rio Grande Restoration, said the issue is bigger than the minnow.

"I think it's unfortunate that we are so focused on the minnow and have lost sight of the fact that the river ecosystem is crashing whether we deliver water to the minnow or not," she said.

Albuquerque wins huge water victory The City of Albuquerque won a huge water victory Thursday when a U.S. House and Senate Conference Committee approved language in an appropriations bill that bars the federal government from using the city's San Juan/Chama water to satisfy provisions of the Endangered Species Act. Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez announced the language approval during a hastily called news conference in his City Hall office. "This secures for all time Albuquerque's San Juan/Chama water supply," Chavez said while thanking New Mexico's two U.S. senators--Republican Pete Domenici and Democrat Jeff Bingaman for their work on the matter. Chavez said that the San Juan/Chama water represents 70 percent of Albuquerque's future supply. If the federal government were allowed to take the water for the slivery minnow, Albuquerque's future growth would have been jeopardized, Chavez said. At issue in the court case was whether the federal government could use what is referred to as "non-native" water to help the silvery minnow. Because the San Juan/Chama water is imported under the Continental Divide into the Rio Grande basin, it is not native to the system. Attorneys for the city had argued in court that water that is not native to a river system could not be used to satisfy the Endangered Species Act
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