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Water Commission to Consider Permanent Protection for New Mexico's Headwater Streams and Wild National Forests

Water Commission to Consider Permanent Protection for New Mexico's Headwater Streams and Wild National Forests

Santa Fe, NM The New Mexico Water Quality Control Commission (WQCC) will hold a four day hearing this week to consider a petition to protect waterways within Forest Service Wilderness areas as Outstanding National Resource Waters. If successful, the designation would protect over 700 miles of 199 perennial rivers and streams, 29 lakes, and approximately 6,000 acres of wetlands. The New Mexico Environment Department, Department of Game and Fish, and Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department bring the petition before the WQCC.

Because these waters are not always polluted by one single damaging activity, the cumulative effect of activities can lead to degradation. But once designated as Outstanding under the Clean Water Act, pollution to the waterway is explicitly prohibited. The Outstanding designation would protect the state’s most precious waters its headwaters - from threats such as oil and gas drilling, grazing, logging, road building and off-road vehicles.

“The state should use every tool at his disposal to protect our cleanest waters and wildest forests; the title of outstanding guarantees these waters will remain pristine for future generations,” said Bryan Bird, Wild Places Program Director at WildEarth Guardians. “It is encouraging to see the state assert its authority to protect waterways during times of climate change and uncertainty.”

The state’s petition enjoys widespread support (see attached statements of support) from thousands of New Mexicans, mayors of 5 cities on the Rio Grande, watershed restoration groups, faith-based groups, healthcare organizations, anglers and conservationists.

"The City of Espanola is entirely reliant on surface water for municipal use.” Said Alice A. Lucero, Mayor, Española. “Protecting our cleanest waters with an "Outstanding" designation is the kind of innovation needed to ensure water quality."

“Taos, and its over million and a half visitors each year, are focused on our sacred heritage, as well as our sustainable future. Our lands and waters are an integral part of both.” Said Mayor Darren Cordova, Town of Taos. “Governor Richardson's action through Outstanding Natural Resource Waters in New Mexico, is a huge step forward in preserving what is important to us. We commend and congratulate him, and all who assisted. We all will benefit.”

All of the streams and rivers that would be protected by the designation are on the Gila, Lincoln, Cibola, Carson and Santa Fe national forests. Some of the state’s best-known waters would be protected by the designation including the headwaters of the Gila and Pecos Rivers. Many lesser-known gems like the headwaters of Animas Creek; portions of the San Francisco River and the Santa Fe River would also be protected.

From acequia farmers to metropolitan water users to sportsmen and fisherman everyone in the state of New Mexico relies on the pristine and abundant waters that flow from wild, high-mountain forests. The headwaters found in undeveloped forests across New Mexico are in largely unspoiled condition with less than 10% of these waters considered impaired by the state. The “Outstanding” designation will ensure that number does not grow and could help guarantee that polluted headwater streams are cleaned up and restored.

With half - more than 3,000 miles - of New Mexico’s perennial rivers and streams currently polluted or not meeting surface water quality standards—mostly downstream of headwaters—It is critical to protect headwater streams and guarantee a clean water future for New Mexico.

“In an arid state like New Mexico, where the affects of climate change could be acute, forests and water are inseparable,” said Bird. “Our state is a leader in recognizing this relationship and demonstrating our commitment to both.”

Though New Mexico has consistently lagged behind other western states such as Colorado and Montana in using the outstanding designation to protect headwaters, the Outstanding designation will make New Mexico a leader in the West in using the Clean Water Act to protect the state’s waters.

The hearing will be held Tuesday, Sept 14 to Friday Sept 17 in Room 307 of the State Capitol Building, 490 Old Santa Fe Trail, Santa Fe, NM 87501. Public Comment will be taken generally at 1 PM and 5 PM.

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