The Pecos River provides important habitat for Rio Grande cutthroat trout and is a popular recreation destination that supports the tourism economy in the town of Pecos, New Mexico. An Outstanding Waters designation would help protect not only the river but also the Sante Fe National Forest and the Pecos Wilderness from potential toxic impacts of hard rock mining.
Protecting Watersheds Through Innovative Policies
Outstanding National Resource Waters designations are a powerful tool for water and land conservation in the West. The federal Clean Water Act gives states the authority to designate streams, lakes, and wetlands as Outstanding Waters when the state believes those waters deserve special protection.
First, would you tell us about how Outstanding Waters designations can help protect Western lands and waters?
Once an Outstanding Waters designation is made, future activities must protect, and not lower, the water quality from what it was at the time of designation. In addition to protecting the water itself, the designation can influence what happens on land next to and upstream of the Outstanding Water.
We can help protect the entire watershed from new or expanded land uses—such as oil and gas development, mining, road building, and other activities—that could pollute the designated Outstanding Water.
How do you utilize Outstanding Waters designations in your work to protect lands?
WRA leverages our experience and expertise to share lessons learned across states. We help partners develop and deploy this innovative strategy more widely to achieve stronger protections for lands and waters across the West.
For example, we work in coalitions to identify and support designations that would have the greatest benefit. We also work to strengthen state-level policies. The goal is to make the designation process accessible to the public and ensure that the designation itself offers the strongest possible protection for waters, lands, and the species that depend on them.
Looking forward, what can you tell us about the potential for new Outstanding Waters in our region?
We’re always looking for opportunities to use this important tool to protect not just water quality but also lands for wildlife and for future generations to enjoy.
In Colorado, WRA is part of a coalition that is putting together a proposal for new Outstanding Waters designations in the San Juan and Gunnison basins. In New Mexico, we are part of a campaign to secure an Outstanding Waters designation for the headwaters of the Pecos River, which is being threatened by a proposed mine. And in Nevada, we are working closely with the state and our partners to clarify and strengthen the designation process so that Nevadans can participate more easily.