June 11, 2023

Lawmakers seek information about ending mining in the Upper Pecos

A map included in the petition shows the location of streams in the Upper Pecos watershed.

Three members of New Mexico’s congressional delegation are asking the U.S. Forest Service for procedural information as the agency for procedural information as the agency considerss withdrawing the Upper Pecos watershed from mineral development.

U.S. Senators Martin Heinrich and Ben Ray Luján, along with U.S. Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández, sent a letter to the federal agency requesting information about how the Forest Service will assess the potential risks of future mining in the watershed. 

The three requested in October that the area be withdrawn from mineral development.

In April, Forest Service Chief Randy Moore responded to the October request in the form of a letter.

“The Forest Service understands your concerns about mineral exploration in the Upper Pecos Watershed community and is currently assessing the need for an administrative withdrawal,” the letter states. “The Southwestern Region is evaluating the potential risk of mineral development in the Upper Pecos Watershed and whether our current laws and regulations are adequate for its protection. Due to the complexity of mineral withdrawals, the anticipated timeline and outcome are uncertain. The Forest Service remains committed to protecting our valuable water resources and will keep you and your staff updated as more information becomes available.”

In Thursday’s letter, the Democratic lawmakers asked for a “description of the steps involved and the criteria that will be used in the Forest Service’s assessment” and also requested information about how the agency will engage with local stakeholders, including Tribes and elected officials, landowners, acequias, farmers. ranchers and business owners.

“Mining in and around sensitive watersheds has caused tragic consequences time and time again. In 1939, the original Tererro mine in the Upper Pecos Watershed was closed after 13 years of operation, but the damage was already done,” the lawmakers’ letter states. “Decades of acidic runoff and heavy metal pollution ensued. In 1991, toxic runoff ran into the Pecos River and a deadly concoction of sulfuric acid, aluminum, and zinc killed approximately 100,000 Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout and knee-capped the local economy. Cleanup of the Superfund site has cost New Mexico and its taxpayers at least $8 million and remediation is not close to done.”