Groundwater Project Sparks Lawsuit for Fish, Tortoise

The Center for Biological Diversity has sent the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Bureau of Land Management a 60-day notice of its intent to sue for violations of the Endangered Species Act that are hurting the endangered Moapa dace and the threatened desert tortoise.

The suit will concern decisions made in the Kane Springs Valley Groundwater Development project, the Coyote Springs Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan, and a 2006 memorandum of agreement for groundwater withdrawals affecting the Warm Springs area of the Muddy River.

The groundwater developments will destroy Moapa dace habitat at a time when the endangered fish, found only in the upper Muddy River and its thermal tributary springs, is struggling to survive. The Moapa dace was federally listed as an endangered species in 1967 and is also listed as protected and threatened by the state of Nevada. The dace requires warm water, ideally around 85 degrees Fahrenheit. A 2007 survey of the Moapa dace population found 1,172 individuals; a survey the following year found only 460. The ongoing and proposed groundwater developments and withdrawals alter the flows from the springs and negatively impact the precise temperature and water chemistry requirements of the dace.

"The federal agencies have a responsibility under the Endangered Species Act to take affirmative action to ensure the survival and recovery of species protected under the act," said Rob Mrowka, a conservation advocate with the Center. "Taken together, these three groundwater development projects may well lead to the extinction of the Moapa dace. At the same time, they'll badly hurt desert tortoise habitat."

The desert tortoise is listed as threatened under both federal and state law. Infrastructure for the proposed Kane Springs groundwater pumping, the Coyote Springs sprawl development, and other associated groundwater projects will result in reduced spring flows as well as a region-wide dropping of the groundwater table that is accessed by desert vegetation. The resulting vegetation changes, made worse by the warming and drying impacts from climate change, will adversely impact the tortoise's ability to survive. Further, the area impacted by the groundwater pumping has already been adversely affected by the destruction of hundreds of thousands of acres of desert tortoise habitat by recent wildfires and will be significantly impacted by development of these projects.

The 60-day notice is a requirement for a citizen suit under the Endangered Species Act.