(CN) – Though some say it might harm the endangered Moapa dace, the Ninth Circuit refused Thursday to stop a five-year water diversion test in southeastern Nevada.
The Nevada state engineer had ordered the pump test at issue in 2002, saying all applications for additional groundwater appropriations from Coyote Spring Valley would be held in limbo pending a study of how pumping groundwater affects existing water rights.
Several owners of water rights in the area, including the Southern Nevada Water Authority, Moapa Valley Water District and Coyote Springs Investment, were among those implicated by the engineer’s order.
The pump study required them to provide quarterly data on water-diversion rates and groundwater- and surface-water effects for at least five years.
During that time, at least 50 percent of the water rights currently permitted in the Coyote Springs Valley groundwater basin had to be pumped for at least two consecutive years.
Concerned about how the study would affect the Moapa dace, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service came up with a two-pronged plan for preserving and possibly improve the endangered fish’s habitat.
The agency eventually had test participants agree to maintain certain stream flows, dedicate a portion of future water rights to Moapa dace habitat and pledge to reduce water-diversion rates should stream flows hit trigger points.
Though Fish and Wildlife found that its agreement with the test participants would not harm the Moapa dace, the Center for Biological Diversity claimed in a federal complaint that the agency did not do enough to protect the Moapa dace.
The nonprofit accused Fish and Wildlife of relying on inadequate and unenforceable conservation measures, among other perceived violations of the Endangered Species Act.
A federal judge sided with the government at summary judgment, however, and a three-judge panel with the Ninth Circuit affirmed Thursday.
“We find no evidence in the record that FWS relied on improper factors, failed to consider important aspects of the problem, offered explanations for its decision that were counter to the evidence before it, or offered implausible explanations for its decision,” the 42-page ruling concludes.
Senior U.S. District Judge Robert Pratt, sitting by designation from Des Moines, Iowa, wrote the ruling for a three-judge panel in San Francisco.
The Moapa dace is an omnivorous member of the minnow family that grows up to 4.7 inches in length and lives about four years in the Muddy River and Warm Springss area near Moapa in southeastern Nevada.
It earned endangered status in 1967 after the introduction of the shortfin molly four years earlier, amid destruction and other changes to much of its habit.
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