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Congress Moves on Restoring Protection for NM Waters

June 29, 2009

SILVER CITY, N.M. - Entire New Mexico rivers, such as the Sacramento and the Mimbres, and many significant wetlands in the state are no longer protected under the federal Clean Water Act - and sportsmen there are hoping to see Congress change that. Some key legal decisions in recent years removed those protections from many waters that aren't considered 'navigable' or don't flow all the way to the ocean.

Jeremy Vesbach, director of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation, says that affects many places in New Mexico.

"We have a lot of those in New Mexico, a lot of our trout streams don't make it to the ocean. They hit a closed basin, and they have absolutely no protection any more under the Clean Water Act."

Vesbach says it's also important to protect all state waters, given the increasing scarcity of drinking water.

"In a state like New Mexico, where we're increasingly moving to surface water supplies for drinking water, it makes a lot of sense to make sure that water stays clean."

Vesbach says there's been movement in the U.S. Senate on a bill called the Clean Water Restoration Act that would restore protections to those trout streams and the many prairie potholes and playa lakes - flats that may fill with water in a wet season - that are an important habitat for waterfowl.

Opponents of the bill say it adds more expensive regulations during a time when businesses are already struggling. Vesbach says that when it comes to New Mexico's economy, preserving the environment should be a top priority.

S. 787, the Clean Water Restoration Act, recently was approved by the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. The bill had stalled in the Senate in previous years.

Eric Mack, Public News Service - NM