Protections Sought for NM's Pecos Watershed Amidst Mining Proposal
Monday, April 11, 2022
Conservationists, farmers and residents are seeking protection of a section of New Mexico's Pecos River even as a mining company has proposed an exploratory project in the same area.
Ralph Vigil, chair of the New Mexico Acequia Commission and an organic farmer, is part of a coalition circulating a petition calling for New Mexico's Water Quality Control Commission to list 14 miles of the Pecos watershed as an Outstanding National Resource Water (ONRW) under the Clean Water Act.
He said the designation would preserve the cleanliness of the water while also allowing recreation, agriculture and other traditional uses.
"Over here we say 'agua es vida,' water is life, and the waters need to be protected from further degradation," Vigil asserted. "The community has already suffered lots of losses due to past mining experiences."
An Australian-based mining company has filed a permit application for exploratory drilling near the Pecos River, where in 1991, heavy snowmelt washed toxic pollutants from an abandoned mine into the waterway, killing more than 90,000 fish and resulting in a $20 million cleanup. Following the hearing, the water commission is expected to rule on the ONRW designation this summer.
Janice Varela, a county commissioner for San Miguel County, signed the petition and said the area draws locals and visitors to hike, bike, camp, hunt and fish, who in turn help sustain the local economy.
"The Pecos is visited by thousands of people from all over the country, and even the world," Varela explained. "We're hopeful that this will offer us protection when it comes to dealing with the mining companies, which we hope does not happen and ruin our watershed."
Vigil added many people would be affected if the river is contaminated from mining, because the southern portion of the river runs through Carlsbad and the Permian Basin area into West Texas.
"So, there's lots of communities along the way," Vigil outlined. "Agricultural communities, municipalities that could be impacted if we have a spill like we did in the past."
The governor has committed to conserving at least 30% of New Mexico's land and water by 2030.
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