Last month, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham set a goal of protecting 30 percent of New Mexico’s land by 2030 for the benefit of our watersheds, wildlife and natural heritage. With sufficient resources behind it, this executive action will establish New Mexico as a conservation leader, resulting in tangible benefits to our working lands, communities, and economy.
Improvements to our water resources will be among the most important outcomes of the governor’s order. All of us — municipalities, acequias, farmers, wildlife advocates, and recreationists — benefit when we protect and restore our watersheds. Appropriately, the governor’s order mentions water 24 times, highlighting its critical importance to our arid and drought-ridden state.
The governor’s order emphasizes that conservation is not only measured in ecological terms but by its capacity to benefit people and communities. New Mexico’s water resources comprise the backbone of our economy and rich cultural traditions and serve as the foundation of agricultural systems, providing food security and clean drinking water. The governor’s action recognizes that without major investments in conserving New Mexico’s watersheds, our economy, communities and traditions are at risk.
Our organizations applaud the governor for taking this important step to mitigate climate change, build resiliency and protect our natural resources for future generations. As water-focused organizations, Trout Unlimited and Amigos Bravos assert that protecting our water resources means more than simply designating boundaries on a map. Approximately 52 percent of our streams and 64 percent of our lakes and reservoirs do not meet water quality standards. In addition, thousands of acres of wetlands and riparian habitat on public and private lands need restoration. Collaboration, innovation and increased funding are necessary to restore our water resources to meet future demands.
With this in mind, we recommend the state take four actions to achieve the goals expressed in the 30x30 executive order:
First, increase investments in programs that protect and restore our watersheds, rivers, and wetlands. Many of the state’s existing programs have gone without adequate funding for too long. An infusion of one-time funding into the Natural Heritage Conservation Program, River Stewardship and Wetlands Programs, and Forest and Watershed Restoration Fund will improve our water resources while jump starting a nascent restoration economy.
Next, recognize the important link between conservation and agriculture. We must invest in irrigation infrastructure and efficiencies, as well as in farming and agricultural communities themselves. Doing so will benefit rural economies and food security, and improve natural flows in our rivers and streams. By investing in partnerships with landowners and grazing permittees, we can find win-win solutions to unite urban and rural interests rather than divide them.
Third, designate new Outstanding National Resource Waters. Outstanding Waters are a tangible mechanism to protect water quality and increase the percentage of protected areas while respecting traditional land use. Under the leadership of Lujan Grisham, the state is pursuing new Outstanding Waters designations for over 100 miles of river important to the state’s growing outdoor recreation economy. This should be followed by a comprehensive analysis of other waters in need of protection.
Fourth, act swiftly to establish and fund a surface water discharge program. New Mexico remains one of only three states lacking such a program. A staggering 90 percent of our surface waters are not currently protected by federal water quality regulations, making our rivers, reservoirs and wetlands vulnerable to pollution.
Achieving the executive order’s climate and conservation goals within this decade will require ambitious action and substantial investment. The alternative — polluted water supplies, catastrophic wildfires, food insecurity and intensifying drought — necessitates that we face these challenges immediately and together.