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Western Rivers Disproportionately Impacted by Trump’s Rollbacks

January 23, 2020
Jen Pelz, 303-884-2702, jpelz@wildearthguardians.org
In This Release
#CORiver, #ForceForNature, #LivingRio, #LivingRivers, #ProtectWhatYouLove, #RethinkRivers
Washington, D.C.—The Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers finalized Trump’s dirty water rule today that eliminates vital clean water protections from 60 percent of rivers, creeks, streams and wetlands across the United States. The rule eliminates entire categories of previously protected streams including ephemeral and intermittent streams, which account for the majority of waterways in western river basins.

“River basins are like trees, you can’t put poison at the base of a tree and not expect it to destroy the trunk and leaves” said Jen Pelz, Rio Grande Waterkeeper and Rivers Program Director at WildEarth Guardians. “It defies common sense to leave unprotected the arteries of life to the desert Southwest.”

The health of waterways in the Rio Grande Basin depends largely on the categories of waterways expressly excluded under the rule: ephemeral and intermittent streams, wetlands, and groundwater. Ephemeral and intermittent streams—those waterways that only flow in response to storm events or go underground for part of the year—make up at least 88 percent of streams in New Mexico and 68 percent in Colorado. New Mexico, alone, contains about one million acres of wetlands. The quality of the water in these tributary streams and wetlands directly translates into the quality of water of the Rio Grande.

The Rio Grande is the fifth largest watershed in north America covering an area larger than the state of Texas. It provides irrigation and drinking water to over 6 million people in the United States and Mexico. Even though the river only makes up one percent of the landscape, it is a critical migratory corridor for tens of thousands of sandhill cranes that overwinter each year in central New Mexico and it supports over 400 species of native fish, wildlife and plants.

Rio Grande Waterkeeper and Waterkeeper Alliance prepared a detailed fact sheet  analyzing how the proposed rule would impact tens of thousands of miles of streams, creeks, arroyos, and washes in the Rio Grande Basin. The Santa Fe River and Rio Puerco (one of the largest tributaries to the middle Rio Grande) are just two examples of major tributaries that will no longer be protected under the new rule.

“We need clean water and living rivers in the west for both people and the environment,” added Pelz. “This rule undermines basic protections that ensure that the commons are protected and sustained for future generations.”