(The Center Square) – U.S. Senators Martin Heinrich and Ben Ray Luján and U.S. Representative Teresa Leger Fernández, all Democrats from New Mexico, introduced the Pecos Watershed Protection Act in Congress this week.
The bill would prevent mineral development in portions of the Pecos Watershed in northern New Mexico.
“In 1991, a spill of toxic waste from a closed mine killed fish in the river for more than 11 miles,” a press release from Heinrich’s office said. “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.”
The cleanup of that 1991 incident has cost the state $36 million to date, according to The Santa Fe New Mexican.
The bill filed this week would withdraw federally-managed minerals in this watershed from development. It would ban the leasing, patent, or sale of publicly owned minerals.
“The Pecos Valley is home to a remarkably diverse community of farmers, producers, hunters, anglers, and outdoor recreationists who are united by the beauty and health of the Pecos River and the expansive watersheds that feed into it,” Heinrich said. “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. I’m introducing the Pecos Watershed Protection Act to prevent future mining accidents in northern New Mexico that pose a threat to these waters and its people. That is how we make sure this watershed can remain healthy and intact for future generations.”
Luján said protecting land and water is a priority of his in Congress.
“The Pecos Watershed is a vital resource for northern New Mexico communities, and it’s critical to protect and maintain the watershed for generations to come,” Luján said. “That’s why I’m proud to reintroduce the Pecos Watershed Protection Act to protect our water from toxic waste and contaminants. I’ve made it a priority to stand up for our land and water, and I remain committed in the fight to preserve our natural resources.”
Leger Fernández said the bill would help protect the watershed for generations to come.
“As the Pecos River flows from high mountain snowmelt, it provides the water needed for life, for the recreational and cultural traditions of the surrounding valley and the communities it traverses for miles,” Leger Fernández. “In New Mexico, we know that agua es vida – water is life, and we must protect the Pecos from any new mining toxic waste spills. I stand with the people who live and rely on the waters of the Pecos. The Pecos Watershed Protection Act will ensure that dangerous mining accidents do not happen again and our watersheds remain healthy for generations.”
The Pecos Pueblo has inhabited the area since about 1100 AD. The Pueblos continue to use the watershed for hunting, fishing, herb gathering, and ceremonial purposes. Additionally, Franciscan missionaries constructed the first Spanish mission church in Pecos between 1617 and 1621.
Spanish land grant hairs and acequia parciantes still farm and ranch in the valley region.
“They also hunt and fish the watershed and gather herbs and firewood honoring their traditional cultural land use values,” the release said.
Many local leaders and advocacy groups back the bill. The Village of Pecos, Santa Fe County, and San Miguel County have all passed resolutions supporting it.
“The Pecos River has been the lifeline for all forms of life throughout history,” Daryl Lucero, 2nd Lt. Governor, Pueblo of Jemez, said. “Our people have always set precedence on protecting our watersheds and want to ensure the same protections are afforded to the generations yet to come. As stewards of these lands, we are directly responsible for ensuring these protective measures are taken.”
The movement against mining in this area has been gaining momentum since 2019, according to Yahoo News.
This is the second time these lawmakers have filed this bill. They also filed it in 2021, but it died in committee.
One can read the full bill here.