New Mexico adds crucial protections for northern Rio Grande and other regional rivers

July 13, 2022

Andrew Fahlund and Nina Carranco

Credit: Jim O’Donnell

Fifty years ago, Congress passed the Clean Water Act, creating a national framework that promised to make the waters of the nation fishable, swimmable, and boatable. On July 12, 2022, the state of New Mexico called upon the power of that law by designating 304 miles of the northern Rio Grande, upper Upper Pecos Watershed, and other major regional rivers as “Outstanding National Resource Waters.”

The designation protects these northern basins of the Land of Enchantment by preventing the government from granting permits for activities that would pollute the water.  It also demonstrates respect for existing and traditional water uses like agricultural irrigation, including acequia practices that date back hundreds of years in New Mexico and represent a pillar of culture and community life. The new classification will also sustain wildlife and protect outdoor sports like fishing, hunting, and rafting that contribute to the tourism economy.

State approval of the designation followed tireless work by several Water Foundation grantees and testimonies from thousands of supporters. Farmers, businesses, indigenous people, and government officials organized to protect their watershed from outside interests promoting harmful development and quickly gravitated toward a protective designation that would prevent the issuance of necessary permits. The Water Foundation helped conceive of the idea and provided strategic advice and funding. Going forward, we hope to see more Outstanding Waters designations in New Mexico and across the nation.

Check out the OW announcement from Western Environmental Law Center, Amigos Bravos and other partners:

Local communities applaud Lujan Grisham administration’s support for water protections for northern New Mexico streams