Asks for $1.5M outlay for restoration projects
Improving the quality of rivers deserves the investment of state money because it benefits New Mexico’s economy while protecting water supplies, Gov. Susana Martinez said Thursday.
She called on state legislators next year to approve $1.5 million in capital outlay funding to protect New Mexico streams and rivers, which she said would bring $2.6 million in federal matching funds.
Severe drought and wildfires in recent years have boosted watershed protection as a state priority, she said.
“Our streams and rivers have become strained by the worst drought in 118 years,” Martinez said during a news conference near the Rio Grande at Coronado Historic Site in Bernalillo.
In addition, burn scars left by massive wildfires “pose a new series of challenges to our river habitats,” she said.
The “river stewardship” program she announced Thursday will focus on projects that enhance New Mexico tourism and prevent damaging runoff from burn scars, she said.
New Mexico Environment Department officials said the river stewardship program would expand the number of watershed restoration projects underway in the state.
The program is intended to improve habitat for fish and wildlife and provide safe water for recreational activities. Other goals include reducing downstream flood hazards by restoring floodplains adjacent to rivers.
Environment Secretary Ryan Flynn said that more than a third of New Mexico’s streams and rivers fall short of water quality standards. The program is intended to improve water quality by reducing runoff as a source of contamination, he said.
Martinez cited a recent project that used $2.6 million in state and federal funds to restore 12 miles of the Pecos River at the Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge in southeast New Mexico.
The project removed hundreds of acres of salt cedar and other invasive plants, planted native plant species and improved the habitat for a variety of birds, mammals and fish.
“This project will build on the successes of past efforts,” she said.