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Rare minnow found only in Nevada may qualify as endangered

A rare deep olive and silver minnow found only on a private ranch in Nevada’s Fish Lake Valley may qualify as an endangered species by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services.

The federal agency announced Monday that it found a petition to list the Fish Lake Valley tui chub as endangered had merit and it will now launch a 12-month status review.

The Fish Lake Valley tui chub’s habitat was once found in several springs by the California-Nevada border. “As habitat was degraded or lost, the species was eventually limited to one population in Fish Lake Valley in southwest Nevada,” the agency said.

Its remaining population now is “severely threatened” due to overpumping of underground water by farms growing alfalfa, according to the petition submitted by the Center for Biological Diversity.

“The valley basin is experiencing pretty permanent damage, due to over-pumping,” said Krista Kemppinen, a senior scientist at the center. “Water levels have declined by several feet a year, an aquifer has collapsed and (it) is very difficult to reverse the damages.”

Water levels in Fish Lake Valley have declined up to 2.5 feet per year, causing more than 75 feet of cumulative drawdown from 1960 to 2011, according to the Center for Biological Diversity.

Given the rate that groundwater is being pumped out, proposed water-intensive lithium mining would be catastrophic, according to the petition.

State regulations limit the amount of water farms may withdraw, but those limits are not strictly enforced, according to Kemppinen. “There needs to be better management of water resources,” she said.

She also believes water management should be enforced at the state level, though a federal action to list the minnow as an endangered species would help create those protections.

In a 2019 report, the United Nations estimated that roughly a million species globally are at threat of extinction, and one in five are at high risk. One hundred fifty species have been confirmed to be lost to extinction and 500 are suspected to be extinct due to a lack of sightings, according to Kemppinen.

In 2020, it was estimated that over 50 fish species in the western U.S. are at an elevated risk of extinction due to irrigation of cattle-feed crops, according to a study published by Nature.

“The west in general is in a crisis,” Kemppinen said. “There is an unsustainable use of groundwater and consumption needs to come down. Projects that require a lot of water need to go to somewhere else.”

The Fish and Wildlife Service will evaluate all potential threats to what Kemppinen called the “cutest little fish” during its 12-month status review and come to a decision.

Contact Jimmy Romo at jromo@reviewjournal.com. Follow @jimi_writes on Twitter.

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