The Center for Biological Diversity has filed a notice of intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for failing to protect the Fish Lake Valley tui chub under the Endangered Species Act.
Once found at several locations in Fish Lake Valley in Esmeralda County, the Fish Lake Valley tui chub now survives only in a single isolated spring at a privately owned ranch. Groundwater overpumping threatens to dry up its last stronghold.
The Center petitioned the Service in 2021 to protect the rare fish under the Endangered Species Act because of the imminent threat of extinction. Earlier this year the Service found that the petition presented substantial evidence that listing the fish may be warranted. But the agency failed to issue a decision on whether protection is warranted by the legally required deadline.
“The Fish Lake Valley tui chub is staring extinction in the face because of the catastrophic overuse of groundwater in its native range,” said Patrick Donnelly, Great Basin director at the Center. “This lawsuit as a last-ditch effort to save this unique fish from disappearing forever.”
Before European colonization, Fish Lake Valley had extensive groundwater-dependent ecosystems fed by snowmelt from the nearby White Mountains, including the lake for which the valley was named.
Over recent decades, the lake and many other springs dried up as groundwater pumping increased, primarily for growing alfalfa. The state of Nevada, which has the authority to manage groundwater, has failed to correct severe overpumping. Groundwater levels continue to fall across the valley.
Additional threats to the Fish Lake Valley tui chub include a proposed geothermal power plant within a mile of its habitat and numerous proposed lithium mines on a nearby playa.
“Saving the Fish Lake Valley tui chub means saving the springs it needs to survive,” said Donnelly. “Protecting these springs will benefit hundreds of other plants and animals, and people, too. Nevada has failed to properly regulate groundwater, and now we need the Endangered Species Act to save this unique fish.”