Our New Mexico Waters

Local Community Leaders Urge Commission to Protect Upper Pecos Watershed

Conserving watershed will preserve clean water, cultural history, traditional irrigation, outdoor recreation

Santa Fe, NM (April 13, 2022) – A diverse coalition, including community members, local governments, farmers, acequia members, and water conservation groups, are urging the New Mexico Water Quality Control Commission (WQCC) to protect streams and wetlands in the Upper Pecos Watershed. The WQCC met yesterday to consider a petition to designate 14 miles of the Pecos River, 165 miles of tributaries, and over 40 acres of wetlands within the Pecos River Watershed as Outstanding National Resource Waters (ONRWs) under the Clean Water Act. The WQCC is expected to deliberate and make a decision on the petition this summer. The petitioners are the Village of Pecos, San Miguel County, Upper Pecos Watershed Association, New Mexico Acequia Association, and Molino de la Isla Organics LLC.

An ONRW designation would protect traditional community water uses while safeguarding our valued surface waters from degradation. Development, transportation, mining, waste disposal, and climate change all pose threats to the health of the watershed.

“I hope the WQCC will stand with New Mexicans to protect the lifeblood of our community,” said San Miguel County Commissioner, Janice Varela. “From water for drinking and agriculture to outdoor recreation and tourism dollars, the Upper Pecos Watershed sustains us.”

The watershed is the ancestral homeland to the Pecos Pueblo, whose descendants still consider the area culturally significant. Spanish settlers came to the area in the mid-16th century, and their descendants depend on the region for traditional land-use practices like growing crops and raising livestock. Today, dozens of acequias divert from the Pecos River and clean water from the Upper Pecos Watershed is vital for local food, agriculture, and local economies.

“My acequia depends on the clean and abundant water from the Upper Pecos Watershed,” added Ralph Vigil, the chair of the New Mexico Acequia Commission and an organic farmer. “Protecting the watershed will keep the water clean and clear from pollution and allow my family to continue our way of life.”

The Upper Pecos Watershed draws locals and visitors to hike, bike, camp, hunt, fish, ride horseback, and more, who, in turn, help support local businesses. The nominated stretch of the Pecos is the second most fished region in the state. Fly-fishing guides have named the Upper Pecos among the “best places to fly fish in New Mexico.” As more people seek out nature for healing, solace, and exercise, we see how critical the Upper Pecos Watershed is for physical and mental health.

“New Mexico, the Land of Enchantment, is known for clean air, healthy lands, and fresh water,” said Kimberly Allen, owner of Pecos River Cabins. “The Upper Pecos Watershed attracts visitors near and far to Bird, hike, and other activities, and as our economy recovers, their dollars continue to contribute to our rural economies. I am hopeful that the WQCC will designate the Pecos as Outstanding.”

The Pecos River’s clean, pristine waters serve as home to one of the few remaining populations of New Mexico’s native Rio Grande cutthroat trout. The watershed is also home to several threatened or at risk species, including the Mexican spotted owl and peregrine falcon. Additionally, elk, mule deer, mountain lions, bobcats, and spotted bats find habitat in the watershed.

Toner Mitchell, an angler, added, “My family has fished on the Pecos River since I was little, and we want to continue this time-tested tradition for our children and grandchildren. Our community has protected these lands and waters, and I urge the WQCC to recognize this watershed for its exceptional and lasting value.”

As the WQCC considers this petition, the coalition looks forward to ensuring the Pecos River and its tributaries are preserved as ONRWs for generations to come.