By Ralph Vigil, Northern Organizer with New Mexico Wild
The fight to protect the Pecos from mining interests is in full swing. The Stop Tererro Mine Coalition has been working around the clock to save the Upper Pecos Watershed from the devastating effects of mining, which the area has already experienced in the past.
The first step was to secure the highest level of protection for the waters most in danger from the mining threat. With assistance from Amigos Bravos and the Western Environmental Law Center, Molino de la Isla Organics, the New Mexico Acequia Association, San Miguel County and the Village of Pecos petitioned the Water Quality Control Commission to designate nearly 180 miles of streams and 43 acres of wetlands as Outstanding National Resource Waters (ONRW). In July 2022, the Water Quality Control Division voted unanimously to designate those waters as ONRW. Coalition and community members came together on Earth Day 2023 to celebrate this victory at the Monastery in Pecos. The event was held alongside Dia del Rio y Camino, a river and road clean-up from Pecos, NM, to Pecos, TX, organized by the Upper Pecos Watershed Association.
The next step is to secure an Administrative Withdrawal of the mineral rights within the Upper Pecos Watershed. The coalition has formed a subcommittee to work with the Department of the Interior, BLM, and the Santa Fe National Forest to begin the process. An administrative mineral withdrawal would start with a two-year segregation period for the federally managed minerals within the Upper Pecos Watershed. The segregation period would require land managers to determine the validity of existing claims before granting companies the right to initiate exploratory activities or mine in the area, which could result in invalidating some existing claims. The segregation period would also prevent the establishment of new mining claims in the area for up to two years. If an administrative withdrawal were approved, it would prevent the establishment of new claims for 20 years.
Community support for these efforts is much needed. On May 9th, the San Miguel County Commission passed a resolution supporting the administrative withdrawal, followed by the Village of Pecos Board of Trustees passing a similar resolution the next day. On June 14th, the Board of County Commissioners for Santa Fe County unanimously approved the resolution in support of a mineral withdrawal for the Upper Pecos Watershed. The commissioners all spoke to the importance of this issue and their own personal connections to this special place. The coalition is now working with the Jemez and Tesuque Pueblos to secure similar resolutions.
On July 12th. 2023, the Stop Tererro Mine Coalition is hosting a public meeting in Pecos, New Mexico. Please join us to learn more about the current status of mining in the Pecos, the administrative mineral withdrawal process, and plans for future protections for the Upper Pecos Watershed. You can find the meeting details here.
More information is available, along with a petition in support of the administrative withdrawal, at https://stoptererromine.org/take-action-mineral-withdrawal.
Ralph Vigil is a twelfth-generation Nuevo Mexicano from Pecos whose passion lies in his work protecting the precious resources that have sustained New Mexico’s traditional acequia communities for hundreds of years. He is the Chairman of the New Mexico Acequia Commission where he has fought tirelessly to protect acequias and the watersheds that feed them for 16 years. Ralph is also the owner of Molino de la Isla Organics, a small organic farm that grows healthy, acequia-grown food for his community and helps educate the public about acequia culture and its contribution to the environment that sustains them.
Ralph was instrumental in the founding of the Stop the Tererro Mine Coalition. bringing stakeholders from the environmental, traditional, and pueblo communities together to protect the Pecos River and its tributaries. It is Ralph’s goal to ensure that New Mexico’s natural resources and traditional communities are cared for, respected, and protected for future generations.