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Udall, Heinrich Secure Permanent Reauthorization of Rio Puerco Watershed Management Program in Public Lands Package

Bill enables communities to continue restoring and managing vital Rio Puerco watershed

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich announced that they have secured a provision in the public lands package that passed the Senate today to permanently reauthorize the Rio Puerco Watershed Management Program, a collaborative program that brings together federal and state agencies, Tribes, non-profits, and local communities to work to reduce sediment, control erosion, and restore healthy vegetation on the Rio Puerco watershed. 

The Rio Puerco Basin is a critical watershed for New Mexico, encompassing approximately 4.7 million acres that flow into the Rio Grande. It serves as the largest tributary to the Middle Rio Grande Basin, which is a vital supply source for water-scarce New Mexico. But for years, the Rio Puerco has also been the primary source for large amounts of damaging excess sediment delivered into the Rio Grande system, resulting in alarming levels of erosion and flooding.

To help address this problem, then-Senators Pete Domenici and Jeff Bingaman pushed for legislation that would eventually establish the Rio Puerco Management Program in 1996, a community-based approach to restore and better manage the Rio Puerco. The program has been critical to reducing sediment load into the basin, and has successfully led interagency collaborations to better control for flooding. 

“The Middle Rio Grande Basin is absolutely vital for New Mexico’s already scarce water supplies, and the Rio Puerco Watershed Management Program is critical to reducing sediment buildup into the basin,” said Udall. “Since its creation over 12 years ago, the Rio Puerco Watershed Management Program has brought together local communities and federal and state agencies to effectively reduce sediment and control erosion, addressing these pressing issues head on. I’m proud that Senator Heinrich and I worked together and secured this updated measure to enable this collaborative, community-based program to effectively manage and restore the Rio Puerco watershed for years to come.”

“The Rio Puerco watershed faces unique challenges. By the end of the last century, decades of poor land management and pollution combined with highly erodible soils created immense difficulties all along the Rio Puerco floodplain,” said Heinrich. “I am proud we are continuing to provide resources for the Rio Puerco Management Committee, which has shown over the last two decades that with a collaborative, comprehensive approach, it is possible to make real progress in restoring the land and water in this watershed that is so central to communities in western New Mexico.”

Without Udall and Heinrich’s provision, the Rio Puerco Watershed Management Program’s authorization for funding would have expired in March 2019.