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New Mexico Makes Conservation History With Sweeping Water Protections

Date
December 1, 2010
Contact
Bryan Bird (505) 988-9126 x1157
In This Release
Rivers  
#ReviveTheRio
Wednesday, December 1, 2010
New Mexico Makes Conservation History With Sweeping Water Protections

More than 700 miles of the states cleanest waters are named Outstanding.
Contact: Bryan Bird (505) 988-9126 x1157

Santa Fe, NM –Withthe support of thousands of New Mexicans, six cities on the Rio Grande, ahandful of dedicated conservation organizations and Governor Richardson the NewMexico water regulators gave sweeping protection today to over 700 miles of 199perennial rivers and streams, 29 lakes, and approximately 6,000 acres ofwetlands affecting close to 1.4 million acres of land. The action of the WaterQuality Control Commission concludes a three-year public process, extraordinaryin its scope of citizen outreach by state government, since Mr. Richardsonannounced the water protection initiative on Earth Day 2008.

“NewMexico has taken a bold step in securing our water future.” Said Bryan Bird,Program Director for WildEarth Guardians. “There is a great deal of uncertaintywith climate change and protecting clean water is a first line of defense.”

The permanentsafeguarding of the state’s most pristine waters and forests is a historicconservation action, being celebrated by conservationists and hunting andfishing groups statewide. The designation – asserting state’s rights – offerssignificant protection of clean waters and wild forests, prohibiting anylong-term degradation from activities such as livestock grazing, logging,off-highway vehicles, mining, and energy development. Importantly, theCommission decided to retain the existing “no degradation” standard,which will place a premium on water quality protection rather than onpermitting activities to occur. National Forest Wilderness areas currently notgrazed by domestic livestock – almost 800,000 acres in all – can be expected toremain that way with Outstanding Waters.

Opposition tothe designation came from the New Mexico Cattlegrowers Association at everyturn which even tried to stop the public hearings with a court order, lateroverturned by the state supreme court. Despite an explicit exemption forexisting operations, the members of the Cattlegrowers continue to be againstthe clean water protections and will likely mount another court challenge.

“Wehope the Cattlegrowers don’t deny thousands of citizens the clean water they’veloudly called for.” Said Bird. “This is a move that clearly benefits everyonein our state.”

On Earth Day2008 Governor Bill Richardson announced he would protect New Mexico’sheadwaters as “Outstanding Waters.” In May 2010, the New MexicoEnvironment Department, Game and Fish Department and Energy, Minerals and NaturalResources Department nominated over 700 miles of 199 perennial rivers andstreams, 29 lakes, and approximately 6,000 acres of wetlands for protection asOutstanding.

Numerous citieson the Rio Grande, conservation and hunting and fishing organizations, as wellas thousands of citizens supported the state’s nomination of OutstandingWaters. WildEarth Guardians made a compelling closing argument for expandingthe designation to all surface waters of the state in U.S. Forest ServiceWilderness and contiguous roadless areas, but it was not accepted by theCommission.

“Thestate has indicated that it is willing to take bold conservation actions toprotect its water source.” Said Bird. “We’ll be back to ask for the OutstandingWaters protection to be expanded to the state’s roadless forests.”

In New Mexico,there are close to 1.6 million acres of undeveloped, roadless forestlands andnearly 1.4 million acres of U.S. Forest Service Wilderness. These forests areoften found in watersheds of major municipalities like Santa Fe and Las Vegasand provide uncontaminated water to New Mexicans including small farmers,acequias, wildlife, recreationists and others.

With half – morethan 3,000 miles – of New Mexico’s perennial rivers and streams currentlypolluted or not meeting surface water quality standards—mostly downstream ofheadwaters—It is critical to protect headwater streams and guarantee a cleanwater future for New Mexico. The uncertainty of climate change for New Mexico’sfuture water supply makes this protection of the state’s water the moreopportune.

Though NewMexico lagged behind other western states such as Colorado, Utah and Montana inusing the Outstanding Waters designation to protect headwaters, the designationfor wilderness and contiguous roadless areas makes New Mexico a leader in theWest in using the Clean Water Act to protect the state’s waters.

For moreinformation: BryanBird, WildEarth Guardians, 505-988-9126 x1157,

bbird@wildearthguardians.org

 

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“New Mexico has taken a bold step in securing our water future.” Said Bryan Bird, Program Director for WildEarth Guardians. “There is a great deal of uncertainty with climate change and protecting clean water is a first line of defense.”