Our New Mexico Waters

Frequently Asked Questions

What are Outstanding Waters (ONRWs)?

Outstanding Waters or Outstanding National Resource Waters (ONRWs) are rivers, streams, lakes, and wetlands that receive special protections to preserve water quality and ensure future generations of New Mexicans have access to clean water. The protection afforded by Outstanding Waters designation respects the role of clean water as the lifeblood of our communities, ensuring that people from all walks of life can enjoy the benefits of clean water in our special places.

Which bodies of water in New Mexico currently have Outstanding Waters designation?

Several Outstanding Waters already exist in New Mexico: The headwaters of the Rio Santa Barbara and the waters in the Valle Vidal, as well as surface waters within New Mexico’s U.S. Forest Service Wilderness Areas.

Which waters are eligible to be protected as Outstanding Waters?

Any surface water of the state that meets one or more of the following criteria can be designated as an Outstanding Water:

  1. Special trout water, and water in a national or state park, national or state monument, national or state wildlife refuge, designated wilderness area, or part of a designated wild river under the federal Wild and Scenic Rivers Act; and/or
  2. The water has exceptional recreational or ecological significance; and/or
  3.  The existing water quality is equal to or better than state water quality standards.

Who benefits from Outstanding Waters protections?

We all benefit from clean water. By protecting clean water, we preserve traditional uses essential to New Mexicans and our rich cultural heritage, including agriculture and ranching. Outstanding Waters also ensure all New Mexicans have access to clean water when fishing, rafting, and swimming. Our state’s abundant fish and wildlife also benefit from clean water, contributing to their survival and New Mexico’s wild, outdoor heritage. And we all rely on clean sources of drinking water flowing downstream to our towns and cities.

Does Outstanding Waters designation stop traditional land use practices such as grazing?

No. Outstanding Waters protections preserve and respect traditional land uses such as grazing. Outstanding Waters protections only prohibit new or increased sources of pollution. Therefore, any existing and ongoing activities are not negatively impacted.

Do Outstanding Waters protections impact acequias?

Outstanding Waters protections ensure that water quality in acequias remains clean and free of pollution. In addition, acequia maintenance, operation, and repairs are explicitly exempt from any new requirements in a water designated as an Outstanding Water.

Who supports Outstanding Waters protections?

Outstanding waters protections are supported by local stakeholders, elected officials, landowners, water users, recreationists, conservationists and business owners across the state. Each petition to the WQCC is lead by, “petitioners,” or those most enthusiastic about and affected by OW protections for the specific rivers put forth in the petition. For example, the Pecos petition is lead by San Miguel County, the Village of Pecos, the New Mexico Acequia Association, Molino de la Isla Organics LLC, and the Upper Pecos Watershed Association. For more information, please reach out to info@ournmwaters.org or to add your voice to our work, visit our Take Action page.