Suit claims Colorado River fish unprotected


PHOENIX Five environmental groups filed a lawsuit against the federal government Thursday, saying it has failed to protect endangered fish in the Colorado River.

The lawsuit claims the Interior Department and its Bureau of Reclamation failed to provide a more natural environment in the river, and now the humpback chub, razorback sucker, Colorado pikeminnow and bonytail chub are in danger of extinction.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Arizona, contends the government is violating federal law by operating Glen Canyon Dam in a manner that fails to protect the features of Grand Canyon National Park and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.

The dam straddles the Arizona-Utah border, backing up the Colorado River to form Lake Powell. The lawsuit contends the dam releases water at unnatural temperatures, quantity, quality and frequency, and deprives the Grand Canyon of sediment and needed nutrients.

"Arizona's native fish are overwhelmingly imperiled," said Robin Silver, conservation chair for the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the plaintiffs.

The plaintiffs are asking the court to order Interior Secretary Gale Norton and the Reclamation Bureau to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service about the effects of dam operations.

For years, officials have studied how to regulate the temperature of water released from the dam, said Barry Wirth, spokesman for the Bureau of Reclamation's Upper Colorado region. But change takes time, he said.

"There's a lot of things that come into play," he said. "We know the technology works. It's just not an off-the-shelf thing."

Neither Wirth nor agency spokeswoman Trudy Harlow in Washington would comment directly on the lawsuit.

The legal action was filed by the Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club, Glen Canyon Institute, Living Rivers and Arizona Wildlife Federation.