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The New Mexico Water Quality Control Commission heard testimony Tuesday from a coalition seeking an Outstanding Natural Resource Waters designation for 180 miles of the Upper Pecos and its tributaries.
The designation would prevent water quality degradation from new projects in the watershed.
Vincent Toya, second lieutenant governor of Jemez Pueblo, said his community feels strongly about protecting the watershed.
“This stretch of the Pecos River is the lifeblood of our people,” Toya said. “The ecosystems that are connected to this special place on our Pecos ancestral homeland are too precious not to conserve for future generations.”
The New Mexico Environment Department, Game and Fish, and the Outdoor Recreation Division all support the designation.
The agencies say the watershed’s significant ecological, cultural and economic importance merit the highest protections under the federal Clean Water Act.
Protections would also benefit the Rio Grande cutthroat trout and outdoor recreation businesses, said Toner Mitchell, Trout Unlimited’s New Mexico water, habitat and public lands coordinator.
“The value of the Pecos River in terms of drawing in revenue to this state for many different uses cannot be overestimated,” he said.
If approved, the designation would not affect existing land or water uses.
The New Mexico Farm and Livestock Bureau opposes the proposal, alleging the designation could “limit economic growth” and restrict activities on private property.
“In a state as dry and arid as New Mexico, continued access (to) and use of our water and land is imperative,” said NMFLB lobbyist Tiffany Rivera.
The panel will make a final decision on the designation in July.
Theresa Davis is a Report for America corps member covering water and the environment for the Albuquerque Journal.