WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, welcomed the New Mexico Supreme Court's decision to uphold public stream access.
“Today is an exciting day in New Mexico history. Our state Supreme Court reaffirmed the constitutional rights of New Mexicans to their public waters. This is a huge victory for people who care about our history, our culture, and our natural resources. I want to thank everyone who made this possible to make sure that public waters stay in public hands,” said Heinrich.
Senator Heinrich is a long-time advocate for preserving New Mexico surface waters for recreational, wildlife, and environmental uses. In April 2020, Senator Heinrich and former U.S. Senator Tom Udall filed an amicus, or “friend of the court,” brief before the New Mexico Supreme Court to defend New Mexicans’ right under the state constitution to access public surface waters.
The New Mexico Constitution expressly provides that rivers, streams, and lakes in New Mexico “belong to the public.” For 75 years, the New Mexico Supreme Court has recognized the public’s right to recreate, fish, and use these waters, including waters that flow through private lands. However, in 2017, in the last days of the Martinez administration, the State Game Commission passed a rule allowing landowners to prohibit public access to waters flowing on their lands if the waters are “non-navigable.” Not only is the rule contrary to the state constitution, it impacts the vast majority of New Mexico’s streams which – whether they flow all the time, intermittently, or just in response to rain events – are not “navigable.”