From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):
A federal wildlife manager assured Colorado officials Thursday that the protection of habitat for an endangered bird would not lead to demands on the state to relinquish water.
In January, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designated critical habitat for the southwestern willow flycatcher along 23 miles of the Rio Grande and a 2.9mile stretch of the Conejos River. “The designation itself does not affect water delivery or water users,” Wally Murphy, who oversees the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s protection of endangered species in New Mexico, told the Rio Grande Compact Commission.
San Luis Valley water officials had been alarmed by the January designation after spending years working on a habitat conservation plan to protect the bird’s habitat on private land in the valley. The service excluded 114 miles of private stream bank along the Conejos and Rio Grande that were covered in the conservation plan.
But State Engineer Dick Wolfe, who represents Colorado on the commission, pressed Murphy on whether the operations of Platoro Reservoir or the Closed Basin Project might be impacted. “Habitat is ultimately driven by water to some extent so it seems like there is a nexus there,” Wolfe said.
Murphy said there would be no call for water. Platoro, which has a capacity of 59,000 acre-feet and sits near the Continental Divide, provides flood control and irrigation water for farmers and ranchers along the Conejos. The Closed Basin Project draws groundwater from the northeast corner of the valley and sends it downstream to assist with Colorado’s requirements under the compact.