A rare deep olive and silver minnow found only on a private ranch in Nevada’s Fish Lake Valley may be considered an endangered species by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service .
The federal agency announced on Monday that it had found a petition to list the Fish Lake Valley tui chub as endangered and would now initiate a 12-month status review.
Fish Lake Valley tui chub habitat was once found in several springs near the California-Nevada border. “When habitat was degraded or lost, the species was eventually restricted to a population in the Fish Lake Valley in southwestern Nevada,” the agency said.
Its remnant population is now “critically threatened” due to over-pumping of groundwater by farms growing alfalfa, according to the petition submitted by the Center for Biological Diversity.
“The valley basin is suffering fairly permanent damage, due to overpumping,” said Krista Kemppinen, senior scientist at the center. “Water levels have dropped several feet a year, an aquifer has collapsed and (it) is very difficult to reverse the damage.”
According to the Center for Biological Diversity, water levels in the Fish Lake Valley have declined by up to 2.5 feet per year, causing more than 75 feet of cumulative drawdown from 1960 to 2011.
Given the rate at which groundwater is pumped, the proposed water-intensive lithium mining would be catastrophic, according to the petition.
National regulations limit the amount of water farms can withdraw, but those limits are not strictly enforced, according to Kemppinen. “There needs to be better management of water resources,” she said.
She also thinks water management should be enforced at the state level, though federal action to list the minnow as an endangered species would help create those protections.
In a 2019 report, the United Nations estimated that around one million species worldwide are at risk of extinction and one in five are at high risk. One hundred and fifty species have been confirmed to be endangered and 500 are suspected to be extinct due to a lack of sightings, according to Kemppinen.
In 2020, more than 50 species of fish in the western United States were estimated to be at high risk of extinction due to irrigation of forage crops, according to a study published by Nature.
“The West in general is in crisis,” Kemppinen said. “There is unsustainable use of groundwater and consumption needs to drop. Projects that require a lot of water should go elsewhere.
The Fish and Wildlife Service will assess all potential threats to what Kemppinen called the “cutest little fish” during its 12-month status review and make a decision.