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CEDAR CITY — Plans to increase the Southern Utah water supply may be in jeopardy if efforts to protect an inconspicuous fish species prove successful.
In response to the proposed Pine Valley Water Supply Project, a 66-mile pipeline from well sites in the West Desert Pine Valley near the border between Beaver County and Iron County, the Center for Biological Diversity filed a petition seeking endangered species protection for the least chub. The petition was submitted to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Sept. 30, shortly after a draft environmental impact statement for the water project was published.
The least chub is a native minnow species that is found only in Utah. The fish once thrived throughout the Bonneville Basin but is now reduced to just five remaining wild populations. Several factors contributed to the species' decline, most notably habitat loss due to agriculture and water demand. Three of the surviving populations inhabit springs and wetlands in Snake Valley, which borders the West Desert Pine Valley area from where the pipeline project would draw its water.
Krista Kemppinen, a senior scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity, said it is important to protect the remaining populations that have been able to survive.
"They're also already facing other threats," she said, "so all of that, compounded with the proposed groundwater pumping, is what triggered us to resubmit our petition almost 15 years after the first petition."