Of all the incredible landscapes in New Mexico, the Pecos Valley in San Miguel County is one of the most notable places to hang out. Each year, the watershed attracts hundreds of thousands of New Mexicans and visitors to hike, fish, hunt, bird watch, camp, bike and more.
Not only does this access to nature translate into dynamic, long-term community and public health gains, but it also benefits the region’s economy. According to data from the NM Department of Game and Fish, 158,402 people fished the Pecos River and its tributaries between 2020 and 2021. In 2020, these visitors, along with hikers, campers and birdwatchers, spent more than $87 million dollars in San Miguel County.
For all these reasons, the State Department of Economic Development’s Outdoor Recreation Division (ORD) joins dozens of Pecos community members, tribes, outdoor enthusiasts, local governments, of acequia associations, farmers, ranchers and water conservation groups to urge the New Mexico Water Quality Control Commission (WQCC) to protect 14 miles of the Pecos River and 165 miles of its tributaries in the watershed as Outstanding Waters – officially called National Outstanding Resource Waters or ONRWs – under the Clean Water Act. The WQCC hearing begins Tuesday, April 12.
This water quality designation will ensure healthy outdoor access, as well as traditional community uses of water, and protect waterways from degradation, waste disposal, overuse and the impacts of climate change.
Crucially, this initiative has the potential to spur other efforts to protect New Mexico’s waterways. It complements and reinforces Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’s pledge to conserve at least 30% of the state’s land and water by 2030. In June, the ORD is pursuing a separate ONRW designation for three additional waterways – parts of the Rio Grande, the Rio Hondo and the sources of the Jemez – because of their exceptional recreational importance. If successful, this DSB-led petition would protect approximately 120 miles of northern New Mexico rivers in perpetuity for outdoor recreation, cultural uses and wildlife.
The designation of exceptional waters is a tool available to other communities to also protect their watersheds. Communities surrounding the upper Pecos watershed depend on clean water to support outdoor recreation, agriculture, and the local economy. The Pecos ONRW Petition is an extremely important tool to protect the waters of Pecos and New Mexico.