U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich is urging the New Mexico State Game Commission to reject five landowners’ requests to certify waterways crossing their properties as nonnavigable and closed to the public, arguing it would be unlawful.

The commission should reject the applications when they review them at a June 18 hearing, Heinrich wrote in a letter, contending that barring the public from any waterway goes against a state Supreme Court ruling.

The high court’s 1945 Red River Valley ruling states that even small waterways are fishing streams that members of the public have a right to use as long as they don’t trespass on the land or along the shore, Heinrich wrote.

“The rule leaves no room for the commission to give wealthy private landowners control over every stream, river and watercourse in New Mexico,” Heinrich wrote. “And doing so would violate longstanding principles of New Mexico law.”

A commission representative couldn’t be reached for comment. The commission is a seven-member citizens’ body that sets hunting and fishing regulations, hires the Department of Game and Fish director, oversees spending of a $35 million yearly budget and sets the agency’s overall direction.

In 2017, the commission passed a rule under the Gov. Susana Martinez administration saying property owners could bar access to waters flowing on their lands if they are deemed nonnavigable. The state Supreme Court will hear a case to decide the legality of the rule.

Not only does this rule run counter to the state constitution, Heinrich wrote, but it would affect most New Mexico waterways, which are not navigable by the official definition.

Whether they flow continuously, seasonally or only after rainfall, few of the state’s waterways are navigable, Heinrich said.

That was why a rule the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued last year, limiting federal protections to only navigable waters, was contentious. It would exclude almost all of New Mexico’s waters.

Even the Rio Grande is not navigable because it can’t support waterborne commerce, Heinrich wrote.

He noted the Supreme Court in the Red River Valley case referred to a section of the state constitution that states: “The unappropriated water of every natural stream, perennial or torrential, in the state of New Mexico is hereby declared to belong to the public.”

Denying the applicants’ requests to bar waterway access won’t prevent them from resubmitting the requests if the high court should ever overturn or narrow the Red River Valley ruling, Heinrich wrote.

But until the court makes such revisions, the commission must not deny the public its constitutional right to enjoy access to waters that flow across private land, Heinrich argued.

(11) comments

Francisco Carbajal

Mil Gracias por tu apoyo, Sneator Heninrich. This story has more to it than what the public does not know about relating to the New Mexico Land Grants, New Mexico Acequia's and Pueblo Indian Lands. Their is always another side of what is happening to the natural river's, natural spring's, and anything that is part of the surface and groundwater table's (acquifer's) across the Land of Enchantment.

Deborah Tolar

Thank you, Senator Heinrich.

Paul White

I think the Pueblo lands have special status regarding rivers and arroyos that cross their lands?

Mangas Coloradas

New Mexico with so few free flowing rivers has for the most part had fishing and access rights to those rivers locked up by wealthy property owners. The people of NM fund and pay for fish stocking in many of those rivers but then are prohibited from wading the high water marks (as is the law in many states famed for their trout fishing e.g. Montana, Wisconsin, Michigan) to angle for the fish that they had to pay pay for! This is a question of the monied class carrying the day over the interests of the people AND the Constitution of the state of New Mexico. Tremendous kudos to the Senator for standing up the big money and telling the truth!

Richard Reinders

Who picks up the trash and put out the fires from people that will push the limit. All the new people moving here are burning down the forest, do you think thy care about trespass.

rodney carswell

generalize much?

Richard Reinders

I have personal experience with trespass on our Chama river property and coke cans and candy wrappers, and this year they found more unattended fire than ever, it was stated in the paper one only has to add one and one.

Jim Klukkert

With such a complex issue, we need as much insightful conversation sharing our common humanity and concern for the earth.

Richard Reinders fails to match this standard in spades, with his charge that it is those pesky outsiders, "All the new people moving here," who are "burning down the forest, do you think thy care about trespass."

Further, the newcomers have no regard for property rights, as they do not "care about trespass."

I searched everywhere Reinders, for a publication of your extensive research into those causing wildfire, and interviews with "new people moving here," to find the basis for your claims.

Seems the basis for your claims is your own anger, alienation or frustration. Nothing that is visibly traceable to what, we assume, is a reality which you share with the rest of us.

Cheryl Odom


Mark Stahl

I’m relatively new here and when I’m out in the woods, I pick up trash and have put out smoldering campfires. Your welcome.

Jim Klukkert


Welcome to the discussion.

Thank you for joining the conversation on Santafenewmexican.com. Please familiarize yourself with the community guidelines. Avoid personal attacks: Lively, vigorous conversation is welcomed and encouraged, insults, name-calling and other personal attacks are not. No commercial peddling: Promotions of commercial goods and services are inappropriate to the purposes of this forum and can be removed. Respect copyrights: Post citations to sources appropriate to support your arguments, but refrain from posting entire copyrighted pieces. Be yourself: Accounts suspected of using fake identities can be removed from the forum.