Heinrich Introduces Legislation To Protect Pecos Watershed From Mineral Development In Northern New Mexico

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) has introduced the Pecos Watershed Protection Act to protect portions of the Pecos Watershed in northern New Mexico from all mineral development.

In the 1990s, a spill of toxic waste from a closed mine killed fish in the river for more than 11 miles. It took decades and millions of dollars to clean up that previous mine, and the last thing this area needs are new mines that would pose a new threat to the Pecos River. Senator Heinrich’s legislation would withdraw all federally-managed minerals in the watershed from development. This would prevent leasing, patent, or sale of all publicly-owned minerals, including oil and gas as well as gold, silver, copper, and other hard rock minerals.

“The Pecos Valley is home to a remarkably diverse community of farmers, ranchers, hunters, anglers and outdoor recreationists that are united by the beauty and health of the Pecos River and the expansive watersheds that feed into it. Unfortunately, this region has a history of poorly managed mining and development projects that have put these New Mexicans, and their way of life and cultural identity, at risk,” said Heinrich.

Heinrich added, "I’m introducing the Pecos Watershed Protection Act as a means to prevent future mining accidents in northern New Mexico that pose a threat to these waters and its people. That way, this watershed can remain healthy and intact for generations to come, because as we all know, ‘agua es vida.’”

The Jemez/Pecos Pueblo established itself in the area around 1100 AD and the Tesuque Pueblo has utilized the area’s rich natural resources since time immemorial. Today, both Pueblos continue to use the upper Pecos Watershed for hunting, fishing, herb gathering and ceremonial purposes. In 1598, Spanish settlers arrived in the area and built the Spanish mission church in 1619. Today, Spanish land grant heirs and acequia parciantes still farm and ranch the valley. They too hunt and fish the watershed and gather herbs and firewood honoring their traditional cultural land use values.

A copy of the bill text can be found by clicking here.

The Pecos Watershed Protection Act has the support of local leaders and advocacy groups.

“On behalf of the Board of Directors and the many stakeholders of the Upper Pecos Watershed Association, we are writing to support [Senator Heinrich’s] proposed bill to withdraw certain Federal land in the Pecos Watershed area from mineral entry. The Pecos river is a clean, pristine mountain water source supporting not only the wildlife, flora and fauna in our area, but is the source of some of the cleanest water in the state. It also supports the economy of the Pecos Valley, including recreation, hunting and fishing. Unfortunately, the legacy of hard rock mining from the old Tererro Mine is a sad commentary on the effects of mineral extraction in the entire western United States. We appreciate [Senator Heinrich] taking up this legislation,” said Lela McFerrin, Vice President of the Upper Pecos Watershed Association.

“Senator Heinrich’s Pecos Watershed Protection Act is a huge step in protecting the health and future of our watershed. The Pecos and its tributaries must be protected in order to guarantee clean water for all life it sustains along its way to the Rio Grande. As we say in New Mexico “agua es vida” and I would like to thank Senator Heinrich for helping to protect our agua for all life and for future generations to come,” said Ralph Vigil, Owner of Molino de la Isla Organics and Chair of the New Mexico Acequia Commission.

"This act will protect the Pecos River and watershed from destruction from mining practices allowed under the antiquated 1872 mining law. The protections will benefit people, wildlife and our economic future,” said Janice Varela, San Miguel County Commissioner for District 2.