This Spring, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) proposed a new water rule. This proposed “Dirty Water Rule” would have devastating impacts to our state by leaving up to 96% of New Mexico’s water unprotected by the federal Clean Water Act, the flagship law that protects our nation’s waters from pollution. Streams such as Tijeras Creek, Las Huertas Creek, Santa Fe River, Rio Costilla in northern New Mexico, and all the tributaries from the west side of the Valle Vidal would be left unprotected.
The rule proposes to eliminate protections for ephemeral waters (waters that don’t flow year-round) and for various other categories of waters including waters that do flow year-round but have ephemeral, or dry, stretches before reaching a larger water body.
Amigos Bravos, a statewide water protection organization, believes the Dirty Water Rule will impact New Mexico more than any other state in the country because of how many ephemeral waters we have here and because we don’t have a state program in place to control discharges from facilities like wastewater treatment plants, mines, generating stations, and oil and gas development. Unlike almost all other states across the country, the New Mexico surface water protection permitting program is run by EPA. This means that if this rule goes into effect, the EPA will only issue permits for facilities that discharge into waters federally protected by the Clean Water Act. The proposed rule would drastically shrink the number of waters protected in New Mexico and initial estimates show that up to 50% of currently required discharge permits would no longer be required.
In the Albuquerque area, streams and drainages such as Tijeras Arroyo and Las
Huertas Creek are at risk of losing protections. Tijeras Arroyo, also known as Tijeras Creek, is located in eastern Bernalillo County, New Mexico, and is one of the largest arroyos in the Albuquerque area. Tijeras Arroyo originates from springs in the Sandia and Manzano Mountains that flow westward
through Tijeras Canyon, then through developed areas of Albuquerque, before entering
the Rio Grande.
From its headwaters, Tijeras Arroyo is ephemeral for about 15 miles. It then becomes ephemeral for the next 11 miles to its confluence with the Rio Grande, according to the New Mexico Environment Department. EPA and the New Mexico Environment Department determined that Tijeras Arroyo is subject to Clean Water Act jurisdiction under the 1988 regulations and Rapanos Guidance, and has a documented
significant nexus to the Rio Grande. Under the proposed rule, however, the entire Tijeras Arroyo could lose jurisdiction even though the arroyo has 15 miles of perennial stream.
Las Huertas Creek has its headwaters at Sandia Crest above the City of Albuquerque. It flows down the northeastern portion of Sandia Mountain into the Placitas area and then into Santa Ana Pueblo where it enters the Rio Grande. Las Huertas Creek is used by residents of Albuquerque, Rio Rancho, Placitas, and Bernalillo for recreation, and it feeds irrigation canals serving the Placitas area. Its lower stretches, as it approaches the Rio Grande, are ephemeral. While Las Huertas Creek has 14 miles of perennial stream, jurisdiction over the entire creek would likely be severed by the ephemeral segment.
Many of our leaders here in New Mexico have come out in opposition to the rule.
Four Albuquerque City Councilors – Councilors Benton, Harris, Winter, and Davis- sent a letter to EPA in opposition to the rule.
The City of Santa Fe passed a resolution in opposition to the rule and several other communities including the Town of Taos and the Village of Taos Ski Valley all sent letters or passed resolutions in opposition to the rule.
In addition, the New Mexico Environment Department wrote a detailed letter in opposition outlining the many negative impacts the proposed rule would have to New Mexico’s waters.
Stay tuned for next steps. Action will likely need to come at the state level. We will be posting developments on our Facebook and Twitter pages.
Click to read the press release
Click to read the City of Santa Fe Resolution
Click to read a Clean Water Rule Fact Sheet