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Investing in watersheds beneficial in many ways

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I am a small-business owner working in the field of watershed restoration for over 15 years. I have consulted with ranchers, tribes, municipalities and state and federal agencies across our beautiful state.

In my work I hear again and again about rangelands, wetlands and streams that have dried out and lost their water. At the same time wildfire, kept in check for 80-plus years, is returning to our landscapes with a vengeance, eliminating our forests and causing immense flood events with a severe damage to stream-side properties. Rivers like the Galisteo River near Santa Fe historically held trout in perennial flowing water; now they are deeply cut gullies that only flow occasionally.

However, I have a great deal of hope, because there are ways for us to begin restoring our landscape, waterways and economy all at the same time.

New Mexico is at the forefront of the emerging field of watershed restoration. Watershed restoration creates jobs, helps ranchers create more forage for their cattle, enhances habitat for fish and restores the floodplains of our rivers. Watershed restoration techniques developed right here in New Mexico through public-private partnerships are spreading world-wide as innovative solutions to the worsening problems of desertification and erosion.

Gov. Susana Martinez is right when she says we need to invest in a growing economy. This is critical to securing a competitive edge for New Mexico in private-sector job creation. We have a great opportunity to do just that.

Healthy Rivers New Mexico is a program that aims to address the root causes of poor water quality and degraded stream habitat through carefully selected river restoration projects. Across New Mexico there are 13 projects in 12 counties needing funds to restore rivers, streams, lakes and ponds.

The projects include restoring wetlands and wet meadows, restoring fish habitat, planting native cottonwoods and willows and restoring healthy flows in our rivers and streams.

Gov. Martinez can advance New Mexico’s economic development and quality of life by supporting $1.5 million per year in statewide capital outlay funding for this vital program. Here is why it is a smart investment:

♦ Good, high paying, local jobs. River restoration efforts in the past have supported private sector jobs in project design and engineering, construction, construction materials, nursery products and supporting sciences. These are local jobs, which start the ripple effect of money spent in our local communities.

♦ Federal investment. With a $1.5 million investment from the state of New Mexico, the federal government will contribute an additional $2.25 million in matching funds from federal clean water programs, money that will be jeopardized without state funding. Many small businesses like mine in New Mexico rely on these federal funds to stay in business.

♦ The recreation economy. New Mexicans love to hunt, fish and explore our beautiful state. So do thousands of visitors who come here every year and pump tens of millions of dollars into our economy. Healthy Rivers New Mexico will improve habitat for fish and wildlife, curb stream-bank erosion and clean up degraded waters to provide a safer, more enjoyable experience for swimming, boating, camping and wildlife viewing.

♦ Reduction of water treatment costs. Healthy watersheds that meet Clean Water Act standards reduce municipal water treatment costs.

With smart river restoration investments today, we can ensure that there will be fish in the San Juan River and the San Antonio Creek; safe, clean water for swimming and boating in places like the Rio Chama; plentiful water to support our farms, ranches and wildlife; and a quality of life that leverages the beauty of New Mexico’s great outdoors.

As a small-business owner who cares about smart investment in New Mexico and the legacy we leave for future generations, I encourage Martinez to support Healthy Rivers New Mexico. The benefits in job creation, healthy waterways and economic development are abundant and attainable. In striving to boost New Mexico’s competitive advantage, Martinez should look to the rivers’ edge.

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