U.S. Senators Martin Heinrich and Ben Ray Luján introduced legislation that seeks to withdraw portions of the Pecos River watershed in northern New Mexico from federal mineral leasing.
The Democratic senators who represent New Mexico cited a mine spill that occurred in the 1990s and killed fish in a more than 11 mile stretch of the river as a reason why the withdrawal is needed. That mine spill resulted in lengthy and expensive cleanup.
“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 in a press release. “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.”
He said the legislation would prevent future mine spills.
“That is how we make sure this watershed can remain healthy and intact for future generations,” Heinrich said.
Heinrich has also championed legislation in the past to update mining laws that have been on the books since the 1800s.
Luján also described the watershed as a valuable resource for New Mexicans.
“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,” he said.
U.S. Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández, a Democrat who represents the district where the withdrawal would occur, is sponsoring the bill on the House side.
“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,” she said. “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.”
This is not the first time such legislation has been introduced. Heinrich initially introduced the Pecos Watershed Protection Act in 2020.