Lawsuit filed over threat to fish in proposed water pipeline in Utah

An environmental group filed a formal notice to sue to the U.S. government over claims that a proposed water pipeline in southern Utah could threaten a fish species subject to protection under the Endangered Species Act.

The Pine Valley Water Supply Project, which managers in Iron County say is needed in the fast-growing Cedar City area, threatens the habitat of the least chub, a small minnow found only in Utah, according to representatives with the Center for Biological Diversity, a nonprofit advocacy group based in Tucson.

The Center plans to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for failing to protect the fish under the Endangered Species Act.

“The least chub is in the crosshairs of the Pine Valley Water Supply Project,” said Krista Kemppinen, Ph.D., a senior scientist at the Center. “If this desperately imperiled fish doesn’t get federal protections, the repercussions could be catastrophic.”

The small fish, which is less than three inches long, once lived in rivers, marshes and ponds across Utah’s Bonneville Basin, but survives in only seven wild populations, having lost much of its habitat to human development and predation from non-native species. It was placed on a “candidate list” for ESA protections in 2010.

The least chub, a minnow that grows to about 2.5 inches and survives only in a small set of waterways in Utah, has had much of its habitat destroyed by human water development.

The Center filed a petition in 2021 asking the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to explain how it would protect the species, especially with the Pine Valley project potentially impacting as much as half of the existing population. A draft filing of the project’s potential environmental impacts suggested it could dry up some of the springs and habitat the fish needs to survive.

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