The diversion of too much water from the Virgin River to Quail Creek Reservoir is jeopardizing endangered fish, says the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.
SUWA mailed a notice of violation letter last week and may follow with a lawsuit to force the Washington County Water Conservancy District to maintain minimum flows in the river, said SUWA attorney Heidi McIntosh.McIntosh said the minimum flow that is supposed to remain in the river after the diversion of water to Quail Creek Reservoir is only there "about half the time.
"Under terms of the biological assessment, the fish are in no danger as long as 86 CFS (cubic feet per second) continues to flow past the diversion," she said.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service did the assessment in 1989 because of the presence of the woundfin minnow, which is on the federal endangered species list. Since then, two more fish have been listed and another assessment needs to be done, McIntosh said.
SUWA's information comes from several U.S. Geological Survey gauges along the Virgin River.
McIntosh said that meeting the river flow requirement will not affect the availability of water in Washington County.
"They knew they were supposed to allow the 86 CFS at the time they built the reservoir," she said.
The notice of violation was sent to Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt and to the Bureau of Land Management Dixie Resource Area offices. The notice of violation is a prerequisite to taking legal action.
"If it's not fixed in 60 days, we probably will file a lawsuit," McIntosh said.
McIntosh said SUWA had not contacted the water district because it is Babbitt's responsibility to make sure the terms of the biological assessment are followed.
"We are hoping for a resolution outside a lawsuit, but we aren't optimistic," she said.