New Mexico proposes protections for northern rivers and streams

The state Water Quality Control Commission on Tuesday considered a petition to designate 125 miles of northern New Mexico rivers and streams as Outstanding National Resource Waters.

New Mexico’s Outdoor Recreation Division proposed the designation, which would prohibit new activities and projects from degrading water quality.

If approved, protected river segments would include:

• Rio Grande from the New Mexico-Colorado state line to the confluence with Rio Pueblo de Taos.

• Rio Hondo headwaters to the Carson National Forest boundary.

• Lake Fork headwaters to the confluence with the Rio Hondo.

• East Fork Jemez River headwaters to the confluence with San Antonio Creek.

• San Antonio Creek headwaters to the confluence with East Fork Jemez River.

• Redondo Creek headwaters to the confluence with Sulphur Creek.

Outdoor Recreation director Axie Navas said the state wants to work with communities to promote sustainable growth of New Mexico’s outdoor economy.

“That can only happen if these areas where people recreate and access our beautiful lands and waters are protected,” Navas said.

The nominated waters are “amazing rivers” that deserve protection, said Nick Streit, who owns Taos Fly Shop and The Reel Life in Santa Fe.

Streit’s businesses sold more than $100,000 in fishing licenses last year.

“On the Rio Grande, we have 50 miles of the canyon to fish, most of which is accessed only by foot traffic, so we still are able to have a total solitude wilderness experience down there with extremely high quality of fly-fishing – really good brown trout and rainbow trout populations,” he said.

The waterways include stretches within the Río Grande del Norte National Monument and Valles Caldera National Preserve.

Joanna Hatt, a native fish biologist with New Mexico Game and Fish, said the proposed protected areas have “high biodiversity and superior potential for conserving” rare wildlife species.

A designation would not impact existing farming and ranching.

The proposal points out that most regional livestock grazing occurs away from or downstream of the proposed designated river stretches.

The commission is also considering an ONRW designation for 180 miles of the Upper Pecos River and its tributaries.

The panel will make a decision on both designations at its July 12 meeting.

This article originally appeared in The Albuquerque Journal