Governor Richardson Seeks to Safeguard New Mexico Headwaters

SANTA FE, New Mexico, April 22, 2008 (ENS) – Governor Bill Richardson marked Earth Day by moving to protect all surface waters within national forest wilderness and inventoried roadless areas in New Mexico – amounting to more than 5,300 miles of headwaters streams that flow from mountain forests.

Designation of these waters as Outstanding National Resource Waters under the Federal Clean Water Act will ensure these headwater streams remain pristine and protected far into the future, the governor said.

“This initiative will provide the highest level of water quality protection possible for more than 5,000 miles of beautiful rivers and streams,” Governor Richardson said. “This ensures that these pristine waters – including world-class trout fishing areas and vital drinking water supplies – will remain clean for the next generation to enjoy.”

The designations also will help counter efforts by the Bush administration to weaken protections in inventoried roadless areas, said the governor, a Democrat who served as secretary of energy in the Clinton administration.

Governor Richardson is a proponent of the Clinton administration roadless rule that protected 58.5 million acres of inventoried roadless areas across the country. He has worked to counter the Bush administration’s attempts to weaken that rule, which have been turned back by the courts.

Sitting Bull Falls in New Mexico’s Pecos watershed. (Photo courtesy NMED)

The designations must be approved by the New Mexico Water Quality Control Commission.

The governor’s plan was applauded by environmental and faith-based groups. “Today Governor Richardson has sealed his water protection legacy; with the outstanding title these waters will remain pristine for wildlife and downstream users forever,” said Bryan Bird of WildEarth Guardians.

“We are thankful for the Governor’s leadership and believe that this initiative helps meet our collective moral obligation to ensure that future generations inherit a better planet and a better New Mexico than the one that we inherited from our parents,” said Reverend Dr. Barbara Dua, executive director of the New Mexico Conference of Churches.

Governor Richardson charged the task of protecting the surface waters and developing documentation for their designation as Outstanding National Resource Waters, ONRW, to the New Mexico Environment Department.

“We will use the designation as a tool to maintain the quality of the water and to protect the integrity of the waters,” said Environment Secretary Ron Curry.

“The New Mexico Environment Department’s Surface Water Quality Bureau will work with other state agencies to conduct the intense work and public process negotiations that will pave the way for the designation,” he said. “Our work will include reaching out to communities and stakeholders around the state.”

Waters eligible for ONRW designation include those that are part of a national or state park, wildlife refuge or wilderness areas, special trout waters, waters with exceptional recreational or ecological significance, and high quality waters that have not been significantly modified by human activities.

Dr. Reid Bandeen is president of the Las Placitas Watershed Association, one of the groups funded through the federal Clean Water Act Section 319(h) watershed restoration funding program. “Given recent predictions by climatologists and the ever-increasing pressure on limited high quality fresh water supplies in New Mexico,” he said, “protection of pristine wilderness waterways is crucial to the long-term quality of life in our state.”

ONRW designation benefits all users of the water by protecting against water quality degradation. If watershed conditions along the ONRW need improvement, designation can help to funnel restoration efforts and financial assistance into the area.

Land use activities in existence at the time an ONRW is designated will not be affected so long as they are controlled by best management practices and do not result in new or increased discharges of contaminants to the ONRW after designation.

New land uses or activities can proceed if they do not cause water quality degradation in the ONRW.

The ONRW designation, if successful, will be the third for New Mexico, all under the Richardson administration, which pursued that designation for the Valle Vidal in 2006 and supported the efforts of Amigos Bravos to gain designation for the Rio Santa Barbara in 2005.

Dr. Ron Loehman, New Mexico Trout conservation chairman, said, “Our more than 400 volunteer members are deeply concerned about the health of streams and riparian areas in the state. This proposal recognizes the importance of the headwaters streams to all of New Mexico and, once enacted, it will ensure they remain as resources for clean water, recreation, and wildlife habitat.”

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