The New Mexico Acequia Association, San Miguel County, the Village of Pecos, the Upper Pecos Watershed Association, and Molino de la Isla Organics LLC today are submitting a petition to the state of New Mexico to protect water quality in the Upper Pecos Watershed. The coalition of community members, local governments, farmers, and ranchers is asking the New Mexico Water Quality Control Commission (WQCC) to nominate portions of the Upper Pecos River Watershed as Outstanding National Resource Waters (ONRWs) under the Clean Water Act. This critical watershed supports agriculture and large outdoor recreational industries threatened by development and transportation, waste disposal, potential hard rock mining, and climate change. As New Mexicans’ health, jobs, and communities are impacted by COVID-19, it is important now more than ever that the state safeguards the lifeblood of our communities.
“The designation of the waters of the Pecos River as Outstanding National Resource Waters will go a long way in protecting both the quality of the water and the local traditional uses” said Pancho Adelo, President of the Upper Pecos Watershed Association and Pecos business owner. “ONRW protections will also contribute to the economic significance of recreational tourism in the area.”
The Upper Pecos Watershed is culturally significant to the people of Jemez Pueblo, as ancestral homelands. Since the mid-16th century, people in the Upper Pecos Watershed have depended on these waters for traditional land-use practices like growing crops and raising livestock. There are numerous acequias in the Upper Pecos Watershed for which clean water is vital to support local food, agriculture, and communities.
“Agua es Vida and the Upper Pecos Watershed provides water for our acequias which are the life-line for many of our cultural traditions and ecosystems” added Acequia user, farmer, and petitioner Ralph Vigil. “It is through the preservation of this precious resource that our ancestors have maintained their will to survive, and it is through ONRW protections that they will continue to sustain future generations for centuries to come. “
Pecos Canyon in the Upper Pecos Watershed is one of the state’s top outdoor tourism destinations and popular among New Mexicans for a variety of outdoor activities. These local users and visitors spend money at local outfitters, stores, restaurants, and hotels. In 2013, anglers alone spent $29 million in San Miguel County, while hunters spent more than $18 million. Outdoor recreation is a booming business in the Land of Enchantment, confirmed by the state legislature’s creation of a new Outdoor Recreation Division of the New Mexico Economic Development Department in 2019. It is critical that New Mexico’s outdoor recreation industry – and the local jobs it supports – can thrive once people emerge following the pandemic.
“San Miguel residents depend on the Pecos River and its tributaries for their livelihoods,” said San Miguel County Commissioner, District 2, Janice Varela. “From water for drinking and agriculture to outdoor recreation and tourism dollars, the Pecos is truly the lifeblood of our community.”
The clean, clear waters of the upper Pecos River and its tributaries are a refuge for Rio Grande cutthroat trout and significant investments have been made to conserve this species across the state. The area is also home to Rocky Mountain bighorn, elk, mule deer, mountain lions, bobcats, and golden eagles.
Local Angler Norm Maktima said, “As an angler, my family and the families of my coworkers depend on the Upper Pecos Watershed remaining clean and healthy. The original Pecos people and the Pecos community now, have and will always protect these lands and waters. It is time for our government to acknowledge and join our efforts.”
The petitioners are calling on the WQCC to designate 14.1 miles of the Pecos River, 56.2 miles of its named tributaries, 698 acres of wetlands, and 180.03 miles of ephemeral and intermittent drainages of the Pecos River Watershed as ONRWs. ONRW protections allows current activities, such as farming and ranching to continue, but requires new activities to demonstrate that they will not degrade water quality.
Upon receiving the petition, the WQCC will vote on whether to schedule a hearing on the matter later this year.
To view a copy of the nominating petition, see: https://www.ourNMwaters.org
To learn more about the WQCC, see https://www.env.nm.gov/water-quality-control-commission/wqcc-rules-and-responsibilities/
To learn more about ONRWs, see https://www.env.nm.gov/surface-water-quality/onrws/
Ralph Vigil, Molino de las Isla Organics, 505-603-2879
Pancho Adelo, Upper Pecos Watershed Association, 505-470-5429
Janice Varela, San Miguel County Commissioner, 505-231-2802
Paula Garcia, New Mexico Acequia Association, 505-231-7752