These waters are now protected from degradation from development and unwise land management. For example, in the early 2000s, the water in the Valle Vidal was threatened by oil and gas development. Outstanding Waters protections were key in ensuring that the many rivers, streams, and wetlands of the Valle Vidal were protected from large scale oil and gas extraction.
A variety of ongoing and potential future activities might contribute to a reduction of water quality. Some of these threats to water quality include:
Increased sediment loading from roads and development can cause substantial water quality problems. The relationship between road building in formerly undisturbed areas and increased sediment yield in streams is well established. A nine-year study by the Forest Service in California found that stream sediment increased 80% with road building in a previously pristine watershed. When more area in a watershed is covered by impervious surfaces, runoff quantity and velocity increases, which results in increased erosion and loading of sediment and other contaminants such as metals, PCBs, etc. that are attached to sediment. Any increase in river sediment affects inflow of oxygen, increases water temperature, and negatively impacts food availability. Not only do these factors decrease fish populations and increase fish stress but also, such conditions degrade the fishing experience.
Poorly managed recreational use of a watershed can lead to increased erosion and other water quality issues, such as E. coli loading.
Illegal dumping of trash and construction waste is a threat to water quality across much of New Mexico.
More than 40% of stream reaches in western watersheds are contaminated by acid mine drainage and associated heavy metals. Acid mine drainage from mining activities have caused massive fish kills and the poisoning of migratory birds at many sites across the West.
Unfortunately, due to the increased chipping away of our nation’s conservation measures, specifically the current Administration’s approach to the “Navigable Waters Protection Rule,” many of our waters are at risk from the dumping of pollution into our waterways.