With Memorial Day behind us, summer has unofficially begun. And that means New Mexicans will flock to our rivers like the Pecos, Gila and Rio Grande to enjoy favorite water-related pastimes.

New Mexicans fish, bird-watch, and hike along our waterways all year long. But we welcome the warm weather by adding picnics, grilling and paddling.

Not only do we enjoy our rivers and streams for recreation, but more than 280,000 New Mexicans rely on them for clean drinking water.

Our rivers and lakes are essential to our quality of life. That’s why we need to do everything we can to protect them. A rule just signed by top federal officials will ensure that our nation’s Clean Water Act will do just that.

The Clean Water Rule, signed last month, will guarantee federal safeguards to all of the headwaters and streams that help keep the Pecos and Gila rivers clean. These protections will extend to 88 percent of New Mexico’s streams that currently lack protection, many of which feed the drinking water sources for hundreds of thousands of people across our state.

All told, the rule will protect the drinking water for 1 in 3 Americans, and it represents the biggest step forward for clean water in more than a decade.

As a result of a loophole created by a pair of polluter-driven lawsuits that went all the way to the Supreme Court, 20 million acres of wetlands across the country — along with many of the small streams and headwaters that feed the Gila and other rivers — have lacked guaranteed coverage under the Clean Water Act for years.

That means developers could build over our wetlands; oil companies, power plants and meat processing plants could dump into our streams.

In fact, according to an analysis by The New York Times, over a four-year period following the court decisions, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had to drop 1,500 cases against polluters who were dumping into or otherwise harming these waters.

Following years of advocacy from Environment New Mexico and our allies, in March of last year the EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposed the Clean Water Rule to close the loophole once and for all. A broad coalition of clean-water advocates, farmers, mayors and small businesses have endorsed the measure. Last fall, thousands of New Mexicans joined Americans across the country to submit more than 800,000 comments in its favor.

I wish that were the whole story.

Agribusinesses, oil and gas companies, developers, and other polluters have waged a bitter campaign to keep the status quo. Their allies in Congress are working hard to assist them. The U.S. House has voted to block the Clean Water Rule multiple times, most recently two weeks ago. Senate leaders have made clear their intent to attempt blocking restored protections for our streams and wetlands, as well.

That’s why we need New Mexico’s U.S. Sens. Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall, and Reps. Michelle Lujan Grisham and Ben Ray Luján to continue standing up to polluters, advocating for clean water and our families’ health, so we can enjoy the Pecos and Gila rivers for many summers and generations to come.

Sanders Moore is the director of Environment New Mexico, the statewide, citizen-funded advocacy organization working for a greener, cleaner, healthier future.

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