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 final ruling to uphold public stream access.
“Today our state Supreme Court reaffirmed the constitutional rights of all New Mexicans to their public waters. This is a an enormous victory for people who care about our history, our culture, and our natural resources. Public waters will remain public,” said Heinrich. “Many New Mexicans worked hard to make this happen, but I want to extend a special thank you to former New Mexico Game & Fish Commissioners Jeremy Vesbach and Joanna Prukop for their principled leadership.”
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.”