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Environmental Watchdog Says Virgin River Fish Under Threat


"Virginia river spinedace fish lepidomeda mollispinis mollispinis" by Johnson, James E, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The Virgin River spinedance is threatened and the Center for Biological Diversity wants to change that.

The Center for Biological Diversity is threatening to sue over a small fish that lives in Nevada, Utah and Arizona, that it says is under threat.

The group wants the federal government to protect Virgin River spinedace better. The CBD alleges the federal government has not done enough to protect the fish.

More than half of the spinedace's habitat, which is throughout southeastern Nevada, southwestern Utah and northeastern Arizona, has disappeared, in large part due to increased growth in Washington County, Utah.

That's a big problem for the spinedace and other fish in the river -- the woundfin and the Virgin River chubb, which are both endangered --according to Noah Greenwald, the CBD's endangered species director.

"One of the primary threats to all three [of these fish] is water withdrawal -- diversion for municipal and agricultural use that has depleted flows in the river," he told KNPR's State of Nevada.

Growth in the St. George region has especially exacerbated the problem.

"Washington County and St. George are some of the worst water users in the country," Greenwald explained. "They actually use 50 percent more water per capita than Las Vegas does. So, this is one of those things where with better use and better conservation, there could be enough water for people and for fish, but that's not what's occuring now."

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Greenwald said the overuse of water may stem from how residents pay for water in St. George: water is not metered, and is instead paid for at a flat rate. Because of this, residents don't pay fees for water based on what they use.

If any of these fish go extinct, Greenwald said, the results could be catastrophic.

He said the woundfin is the only member of its genus left alive, meaning its collapse would eliminate a significant part of the tree of life.


Noah Greenwald, Center for Biological Diversity

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