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Bringing Back San Juan’s Behemoths

The San Juan River once supported six-foot long, 80-pound Colorado pikeminnows and three-foot razorback suckers. Then dam construction, water diversions and non-native species arrived, and these behemoths of the San Juan dwindled to a few half-pints.

The largest pikeminnow recorded recently was three feet long.

In 2011, the Conservancy joined several state, federal and Native American partners in a comprehensive effort to restore the San Juan River, a major waterway of the Colorado River Basin and home to unique native fish.

The project is restoring six key reaches of the San Juan River as it flows through the Navajo Nation.

River Restoration Moves Along

Supported by the State of New Mexico’s River Ecosystem Restoration Initiative and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the Conservancy and an environmental restoration firm have completed biological surveys and project design and removed non-native tamarisk and Russian olive and restored secondary channels that provide much-needed nursery and spawning habitat.

The Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service each year receive more than $2 million from hydropower revenues and federal appropriations to restore ecological damage caused by dam operations and water withdrawals.

The Conservancy has helped our partners assess whether these restoration efforts are making a difference on the river.

Our expertise is also moving river restoration along by helping assess dam operations to determine if they are helping recover the river’s native fish. We are assisting the federal San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program as it determines how to improve water flows for fish, wildlife and people.

Dams: Following Nature’s Example

“Since environmental flow rules were first established for the Navajo Dam years ago, hydrologists and ecologists now have better tools and information about how to mimic natural flows and time the dam’s releases for best results for fish and wildlife,” says Patrick McCarthy, who is leading the Conservancy’s work on the San Juan River.

Making progress on this important New Mexico river basin will take years of work but will ultimately pay off—for the many New Mexico, Colorado and Utah residents whose drinking water and locally grown crops come from the San Juan, who use the electricity it generates, and who spend time fishing or floating this scenic river.

And, of course, restoration will have big pay-offs for life beneath the water’s surface, for the largest minnows on the continent.

Help support the Conservancy’s restoration of New Mexico’s San Juan River to bring back the native fish and other wildlife that depend on this important waterway.


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