Coalition seeks Upper Pecos water protections - Albuquerque Journal

Coalition seeks Upper Pecos water protections

Santa Fe resident Shea Ward fishes along the Pecos River south of Terrero on Monday. A coalition of northern New Mexico groups is asking the state to designate 180 miles of the Upper Pecos and its tributaries as Outstanding National Resource Waters. (Eddie Moore/Journal)

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

For centuries, the Upper Pecos watershed has supported agriculture, Indigenous land uses and river recreation.

Now a northern New Mexico coalition is seeking an Outstanding National Resource Waters designation for 180 miles of the Upper Pecos and its tributaries.

The state’s highest level of protection under the federal Clean Water Act would prevent pollution from harmful mining, real estate development and overuse.

New Mexico’s Water Quality Control Commission will consider the petition during a Tuesday hearing.

Frank Adelo, the Upper Pecos Watershed Association president, said a designation would maintain the river’s water quality.

The group is asking for a designation that would cover the lengths of the main river and each of its tributaries from the Pecos wilderness boundary downstream to the Dalton Canyon day use area.

“I grew up next to the river, and it’s really a crown jewel of our waterways,” Adelo said. “I’ve also seen what rivers are like in other parts of the country that haven’t had these protections, so we know how valuable these kinds of protections are.”

Petitioners also include the Village of Pecos, San Miguel County, the New Mexico Acequia Association, and the Pecos farm Molino de la Isla Organics.

The groups say that the watershed merits a designation because of its ecological, cultural and recreational significance.

Other supporters include U.S. Sens. Martin Heinrich and Ben Ray Luján, Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández, American Rivers, Amigos Bravos, the New Mexico Wildlife Federation and New Mexico Wild.

A dog enjoys the Pecos River south of Terrero on Monday. A northern New Mexico coalition is seeking Water quality protections for the Upper Pecos watershed.

If approved, new activities or projects that need water quality permits would not be allowed to impact regional water quality.

“Let’s say someone wants to develop 50 acres of fancy houses with septic tanks, they would have to prove that nothing they are doing would degrade the quality of the water in the river,” said Lela McFerrin, the UPWA vice president.

The standard would only affect new uses, not existing activities like livestock grazing.

Dan Roper, a Trout Unlimited angler conservation program coordinator, said a designation would “raise the bar” for regional water quality.

“We think that’s important in this watershed, because it’s a place where things like outdoor recreation and fishing and agriculture are so important to the local communities that depend on the Pecos,” Roper said.

New Mexico Game and Fish and the state Outdoor Recreation Division support an Outstanding Waters designation.

The Pecos River south of Terrero. A coalition of stakeholders is asking the state Water Quality Control Commission to designate the Upper Pecos watershed as Outstanding National Resource Waters. (Eddie Moore/Journal)

In a letter to the commission, Game and Fish director Michael Sloane said wildlife in the popular recreational area needs clean water “to survive and thrive.”

“The upper Pecos watershed is home to some of the few remaining populations of New Mexico’s native Rio Grande cutthroat trout,” Sloane said. “Additionally, these cold and clean waters are home to brown trout, rainbow trout and brook trout, making these waters excellent places for both fishing and recreating.”

New Mexico currently has three Outstanding Waters designations for the Rio Santa Barbara headwaters, Valle Vidal and all Forest Service wilderness area waters.

All comments submitted to the commission prior to Tuesday’s meeting were in favor of the designation.

No individual or group filed a protest of the petition.

Adelo said the protections would go a long way to preserve waters that have seen a big visitor increase during the pandemic.

“We saw a ton of people come up to our area to seek refuge and solace and comfort from the craziness that we’ve seen in the past two years, and I think it’s important to protect these places and maintain that water quality,” he said.

Theresa Davis is a Report for America corps member covering water and the environment for the Albuquerque Journal.

 

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