KUNM

Environmentalists Sue Over Levee Project

Mar 5, 2015

Environmentalists worry that the project would harm species like the endangered Southwestern willow flycatcher.
Credit David Powell - Hawks Aloft

 A lawsuit filed against the Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Fish and Wildlife challenges a planned levee system along 43 miles of the Rio Grande. Environmentalists are concerned that the project would eliminate critical habitat for some endangered species.

The levee project would create a vegetation-free zone on the west side of the river from San Acacia, near the Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge, down to Elephant Butte. 

Jen Pelz is with WildEarth Guardians, the group that filed the lawsuit. She says that stretch of the river is critical for the Rio Grande silvery minnow, the Southwestern willow flycatcher and the yellow-billed cuckoo.

Pelz explained that putting the levee adjacent to the river will eliminate "any habitat that was on the west side because the river can’t reach it anymore, because that levee is blocking it.”

The lawsuit accuses the agencies of failing to do required environmental studies and of neglecting to explore alternatives for managing the flood plain.

The first phase of the project, a five mile stretch of levees near Socorro, is already under construction and is not being challenged in the lawsuit.