Fish Pose Threat to Strategic Water Supply

Four different strategies outlined in the City of Lubbock's water supply plan could be in jeopardy should the federal government place two species of native minnow on the endangered list.
The City of Lubbock's water supply plan, approved back in February, could face some big setbacks...all thanks to some little fish.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is moving to place two minnow species native to West Texas on the Endangered Species list. The "Sharpnose Shiner" and "Smalleyed Shiner" are native to West Texas and dwell in the Upper Brazos River Basin.

Aubrey Spear is the city's Director of Water Resources. He says if the fish are placed on the federally protected list, it'll put a quarter of the outlines in Lubbock's Strategic Water Supply Plan in jeopardy.

Ruling the minnows endangered affects four potential plans in the city's multi-pronged strategy: Canyon Lake Number 7 (Jim Bertram Lake), the Post Reservoir, the North Fork Scalping operation, and the North Fork Diversion to Lake Alan Henry. All of these projects would involve diverting or preventing some amounts of water from heading downstream to the southeast - and ultimately, away from the minnows.

But Spear says the science behind the federal species report seems fishy. A week ago, the city submitted their list of concerns with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's proposal.

"Their references are sparse, they really have some holes in their data," according to Spear. "When we made public comment, we told them there's still a lot of information that needs to be developed before they make the decision to list this as an endangered species and make a tremendous impact on the future of the drinking water supplies for the city of Lubbock."

The city's calls the federally designated critical minnow habitat "arbitrarily drawn" and questions their claim that the fish require over 170 miles of unobstructed, flowing water for spawning.

"What a lot of people don't realize is that the Brazos River Basin up in this area rarely has water in it, because of the lack of rainfall," Spear says. "Whereas, U.S. Fish and Wildlife is alleging that these minnows need 171 miles to thrive. Well, they'd have to grow legs, because we don't have water in it fifty to ninty percent of the time."

Dr. Gene Wilde is one of the main biologists cited in the federal species report. He says despite the city's complaints, it's not likely the government will change their mind.

"I mean there's always gaps, you don't know everything about every species," Wilde says, responding to the city's claim that the data wasn't complete. "But, we know a lot about the basic life history, about how long they live, how they reproduce, the kinds of habitat they need, the kinds of water they need. I think a lot of the things we don't know are rather more of small details than large details."



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