Overview of ONRW Protections and History in New Mexico
Under the Clean Water Act, there are several categories (or levels) of protection available for surface waters (rivers and lakes). The highest level of protection comes from a designation as an Outstanding National Resource Water (ONRW). ONRW status means that no activity is permissable if it will result in lower water quality than already exists in the affected water. Click here to download a two-page fact sheet about ONRW protections in New Mexico.
As part of the State's 2005 Triennial Review of Water Quality Standards, Amigos Bravos nominated the Río Santa Barbara as an Outstanding National Resource Water (ONRW) (27.5 MB pdf). The state designated the Río Santa Barbara as an ONRW river in 2004. This was the state’s first ONRW designation.
The next petition was aimed at protecting the Valle Vidal, a pristine area of the Carson National Forest that the Bush administration has ordered the Forest Service to put on a “fast track” for coalbed methane (CBM) drilling. American Rivers nominated McCrystal Creek in 2005 as one of this country’s “Ten Most Endangered Rivers”. Amigos Bravos worked closely with Governor Richardson’s administration to push for designation of all rivers in the Valle Vidal as ONRWs. This effort succeeded in December 2005. Permanent protection of the Valle Vidal from oil and gas exploration was passed and signed into law in December, 2006.
In 2010 Amigos Braovs provided testimony in support of ONRW protections for all waterbodies in US Forest Service Wilderness Areas. These waters, a large portion headwaters in New Mexico, provide clean water to downstream communities for drinking, irrigating and recreation. All the waters in US Forest Service Wilderness Areas were officially designated as ONRWS in December 2010
Amigos Bravos has participated in several ONRW rulemaking processes (one in 2007 and one in 2010) and we have been sucessful at protecting the regulations that set the standard for the level of water quality protections in ONRWs across the state.
With these successes, Amigos Bravos has started a movement for creating ONRWs in special places throughout the State. Amigos Bravos is available to give workshops on how to nominate your favorite river as an ONRW. As with so much that Amigos Bravos is doing, our use of ONRW status has attracted national attention.
Nominate Your Favorite River!
Amigos Bravos works with groups and individuals to identify and nominate recreationally and ecologically important rivers, streams, and lakes in New Mexico as Outstanding National Resource Waters. Please contact Rachel Conn at 575-758-3874 for more information.
The New Mexico Environment Department has developed a template for putting together Outstanding National Resource Water nominations. This template along with other ONRW tools and resources can be found at NMED’s Surface Water Quality Bureau’s website: