Heinrich, Luján Introduce Legislation to Protect Pecos Watershed from Mineral Development in Northern New Mexico
WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) introduced the Pecos Watershed Protection Act, legislation to protect portions of the PecosWatershed in northern New Mexico from all mineral development. U.S. Representative Teresa Leger Fernández will introduce the companion legislation in the House of Representatives.
In 1991, a spill of toxic waste from a closed mine killed fish in the river for more than 11 miles. It took decades and millions of dollars to clean up that previous mine, and the last thing this area needs are new mines that would pose a new threat to the Pecos River. Senator Heinrich’s legislation would withdraw all federally-managed minerals in the watershed from development. This would prevent leasing, patent, or sale of all publicly-owned minerals.
“The Pecos Valley is home to a remarkably diverse community of farmers, producers, hunters, anglers and outdoor recreationists who are united by the beauty and health of the Pecos River and the expansive watersheds that feed into it. Unfortunately, this region has a history of poorly managed mining and development projects that have put these New Mexicans, and their way of life and cultural identity, at risk,” said Heinrich.
Heinrich continued, “I’m introducing the Pecos Watershed Protection Act to prevent future mining accidents in northern New Mexico that pose a threat to these waters and its people. That is how we make sure this watershed can remain healthy and intact for future generations.”
“The Pecos Watershed is a vital resource for northern New Mexico communities, and it’s critical to protect and maintain the watershed for generations to come,” said Luján.“That’s why I’m proud to reintroduce the Pecos Watershed Protection Act to protect our water from toxic waste and contaminants. I’ve made it a priority to stand up for our land and water, and I remain committed in the fight to preserve our natural resources.”
“As the Pecos River flows from high mountain snowmelt, it provides the water needed for life, for the recreational and cultural traditions of the surrounding valley and the communities it traverses for miles,” said Leger Fernández. “In New Mexico, we know that agua es vida – water is life, and we must protect the Pecos from any new mining toxic waste spills. I stand with the people who live and rely on the waters of the Pecos. The Pecos Watershed Protection Act will ensure that dangerous mining accidents do not happen again and our watersheds remain healthy for generations.”
The Pecos Pueblo established itself in the area around 1100 AD. Pecos descendants today live at Jemez Pueblo. Today, the Pueblos continue to use the Upper Pecos Watershed for hunting, fishing, herb gathering, and ceremonial purposes. Franciscan missionaries oversaw the construction of the first Spanish mission church in Pecos between 1617 and 1621. Today, Spanish land grant heirs and acequia parciantes still farm and ranch in the Pecos Valley. They also hunt and fish the watershed and gather herbs and firewood honoring their traditional cultural land use values.
The Pecos Watershed Protection Act has the support of dozens of local leaders and advocacy groups. The Village of Pecos, Santa Fe County, and San Miguel County have passed resolutions in support of the legislation.
“The Pecos River (TóÌ¨oÌ¨k’ô P’æÌ‚ægi, Corn Cob River) has been the lifeline for all forms of life throughout history. Our people have always set precedence on protecting our watersheds (TóÌ¨oÌ¨k’ô P’æÌ¨ÌæÌ¨wâamu, Corn Cob River Valley) and want to ensure the same protections are afforded to the generations yet to come. As stewards of these lands we are directly responsible for ensuring these protective measures are taken,” said Daryl Lucero, 2nd Lt. Governor, Pueblo of Jemez.
The legislation builds on three years of tireless advocacy from the New Mexico delegation to safeguard the Upper Pecos Watershed from all mineral development.
In September 2020, Senator Heinrich initially introduced the Pecos Watershed Protection Act to protect the Upper Pecos Watershed. He reintroduced the legislation with Senator Ben Ray Luján in February 2021, while Leger Fernández introduced the Pecos Watershed Protection Act in the House in 2021.
In March 2021, Heinrich, Luján, and Leger Fernández led a letter to the New Mexico Water Quality Control Commission to safeguard the promise of clean water and increase protections for the watershed.
In June, Heinrich, Luján, and Leger Fernández led a letter calling on the U.S. Forest Service to outline the process by which the agency will assess the potential risk of mineral development in the Upper Pecos Watershed.
A copy of the bill text can be found here.