Report Reveals New Mexico’s Waterways Under Most Pollution Threat

An advocacy organization called American Rivers recently published a study stating that New Mexico’s rivers are the nation’s most endangered streams.

The research rates the top ten most threatened waterways in the US, noting that pollution, climate change, and diminished clean water safeguards all contribute to the deterioration of these streams.

According to the study, the Rio Grande, San Juan, Pecos, and Gila rivers—all located in New Mexico—are the most endangered streams in the United States. State authorities attribute this mostly to a US Supreme Court ruling from 2023 that, as far as the state is concerned, removed federal prohibitions against industrial pollution from over 90% of the surface waterways.

Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and New Mexico are the only states that rely on federal safeguards against mining operations, wastewater, agricultural runoff, and industrial pollution; these three states do not have the permitting ability to control the amount of pollution in their surface water.

According to an interview with an EPA official, the ruling from last May’s Sackett v. Environmental Protection Agency may impact up to 4.9 million miles of streams and over half of the country’s wetlands. According to a historic decision by the court, only streams that are “relatively permanent” and wetlands that have a “continuous surface connection” are eligible for the Clean Water Act’s safeguards.

Many of New Mexico’s streams are seasonal, flowing only when rain or snow melts.

The majority of New Mexico’s population, including 23 sovereign pueblo and tribal governments, gets its drinking water from the state’s more than 100,000 miles of rivers and streams, according to the study.

State legislators in New Mexico responded to the Sackett decision by proposing a bill to preserve the state’s most imperiled waterways if federal safeguards were not in place. In March, the state set aside $7.6 million to establish a permit mechanism to control pollutant discharge into surface water and increase groundwater monitoring.