WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), a member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, today introduced a bill to protect, restore, and improve the health of New Mexico watersheds on national forest lands. The proposal, the Restoring America's Watersheds Act, would direct greater resources toward fire-impacted watersheds and encourage partnerships with non-federal stakeholders to invest in forests that provide important water resources.
"Watersheds sustain life, in more ways than one. They help supply our drinking water, support our agriculture, boost our outdoor recreation economy, and provide habitat for countless plants and animals across New Mexico," said Sen. Heinrich. "This common sense proposal would partner communities and stakeholders to find ways to protect and restore our critical watersheds in New Mexico. As climate change continues to threaten our forests, lakes, streams, and rivers through drought and increased flooding and devastating wildfires, it will be important now more than ever to do everything we can to protect our water."
"More than half of New Mexico's surface water originates from our forests, and we have recently seen how damage from devastating wildfires can take a severe toll on our water supplies for years, particularly given the ongoing drought," said U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.), a cosponsor of the bill. "Our watersheds not only support healthy forests and jobs in the forest and outdoors and recreation industries, but also provide drinking, industrial, and agricultural water. I'm proud to support the Restoring America's Watersheds Act to help unite communities and stakeholders to develop a comprehensive strategy to protect and restore our precious water supply together."
The bill is also cosponsored by U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.).
The Restoring America's Watersheds Act would provide funding to reduce runoff and sediment pollution from roads into forest streams and encourage collaboration in restoring our forests' health. The proposal would also establish the Water Source Protection Program within the U.S. Forest Service. The program builds on partnerships between cities, businesses, water utilities, farmers and ranchers, and the Forest Service to provide matching funds for forest health projects on lands that provide water resources for downstream users.
Senator Heinrich is a staunch advocate of improving New Mexico's watersheds. In August, he toured the Santa Fe watershed to discuss drought, water management, and wildfire prevention with Mayor Javier Gonzales and City and Forest Service officials. The Santa Fe watershed feeds two reservoirs that provide local residents and businesses with water. Senator Heinrich has been pushing to reduce damage to forest watersheds from catastrophic wildfires by changing the way the Forest Service budgets and plans for fire suppression and forest restoration.