Washington, DC August 5, 2019 – Precisely because New Mexico is so arid it can ill afford to lose the waters targeted by the Trump plan to roll back clean water protections, according to a new analysis posted by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The Land of Enchantment will see not only its access to clean drinking water and much of its fish and wildlife habitat, but also its attractiveness to tourism, jeopardized under Trump’s pending deregulatory initiative.
Trump seeks to dramatically shrink the definition of Waters of the United States (or WOTUS) which governs the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act. Trump’s plan would remove jurisdiction from all ephemeral streams, some intermittent streams, and all wetlands adjacent to those streams. That, in turn, would strip legal protection from the lion’s share of streams and wetlands in New Mexico, with the following consequences –
- More than 90% of New Mexico’s streams and rivers are ephemeral or intermittent, and not connected to a traditionally navigable waterway. Santa Fe County, for example, now receives more than half of its drinking water from streams that would become vulnerable to pollution or destruction under Trump’s plan;
- While wetlands cover less than one percent of New Mexico, virtually all these 482,000 acres of marshes, fens, alpine snow glades, wet meadows, shallow ponds, and playa lakes would be at risk from dredge or fill; and
- The riparian habitats vital to 80% of New Mexico’s vertebrates and 70% of its birds would also lose legal protection.
“Trump’s plan would be an unmitigated ecological and public health disaster for New Mexico,” stated PEER Science Policy Director Kyla Bennett, a scientist and attorney formerly with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, pointing to State of New Mexico comments calling it ‘very troubling…because it leaves the vast majority of New Mexico’s surface waters federally unprotected.’ “Water is too precious in New Mexico to be made into a political pawn.”
The Santa Fe River is a critical trench line in this WOTUS debate. Due to New Mexico’s aridity, the Santa Fe is perennial only near its headwaters, and becomes intermittent and then ephemeral as it flows downstream. The river provides about 40% of the City of Santa Fe’s water supply.
Climate change will magnify these impacts. As it becomes hotter and drier, more streams will only flow after precipitation, resulting in more legally unprotected ephemeral waterways. These water shortfalls will be compounded as competition for dwindling water supplies increases.
“New Mexico is already on a perilous clean water path that Trump would steer into a train-wreck,” Bennett added, noting that the Trump WOTUS plans are near finalization. “Among the many casualties will be New Mexico’s nearly $10 billion outdoor recreation economy.”