How We're Fighting to Save our Water Resources

Water is our lifeblood, and the Sierra Club Rio Grande Chapter works vigilantly to keep the water we drink safe and clean. From making sure New Mexico’s massive dairies don’t contaminate groundwater with the millions of gallons of waste they produce daily to fighting for better mining rules to keeping the Gila River free ­flowing to testing rivers and streams for contaminants, our Water Team stays very busy.

The RGC has three priorities on water in New Mexico and West Texas:

1. Preventing the billion -dollar Gila diversion from proceeding
2. Monitoring of dairy pollution
3. Monitoring water quality

Gila River Diversion

Allyson Siwik of Silver City, a Rio Grande Chapter Executive Committee member and executive director of Gila Resources Information Project, is our primary “mover and shaker” to keep up pressure on public officials to prevent a Gila-diversion boondoggle.

While New Mexico would get federal funds from the Arizona Water Settlement Act for a diversion, the amount available is only about $100 million, leaving taxpayers on the hook for the other $900 million a diversion would cost. Still, the Interstate Stream Commission and some local governments are moving forward with a diversion, despite the fact that federal money is also available for non­diversion local projects that would meet Southwest New Mexico’s future water needs at a fraction of the price. New Mexico needs to spend money on conservation and evaluating how much water overuse we are engaged in; we need to use our water at a sustainable level.

Dairy Pollution

Staffer Dan Lorimier and our Citizens Dairy Coalition, which includes citizens who live near industrial dairies and clean ­water groups, have worked for years with the dairy industry and the Environment Department to come up with rules to ensure that the thousands of gallons of manure produced each year by a typical New Mexico dairy’s cows is stored and distributed to fields in a manner that does not pollute our drinking water.

A Dairy Rule strongly protective of groundwater was passed in 2010. But Gov. Susana Martinez’s first act on her first day in office in 2011 was to issue an executive order blocking multiple environmental protections, including the Dairy Rule. Although the state Supreme Court struck down that order, the dairy industry successfully lobbied for a new rule in 2011. After much negotiation and compromise, another rule, not as strong but still protective of the groundwater that most of rely on for drinking water, was passed by the Water Quality Control Commission. But soon, the dairy industry came back to ask for a much weaker law. Meanwhile, the Martinez Administration’s Environment Department refused to enforce the pollution regulations in anticipation of their dismantling.

Facing a pro­ industry Environment Department and Water Quality Control Commission, the groundwater safeguards seemed doomed. But in May 2015, attorney Jon Block with the New Mexico Environmental Law Center negotiated compromise regulations that give us an opportunity to closely monitor dairy reporting for problems that need to be addressed.

Water Quality

With its approval of the Copper Rule, the New Mexico Water Quality Control Commission allowed the copper industry to pollute groundwater underneath copper mines in perpetuity. While a technical advisory committee of industry, technical and environmental stakeholders drafted a rule together after months of work, the New Mexico Environment Department discarded the draft at the eleventh hour and instead presented to the Water Quality Control Commission an industry wish list filled with requests by Freeport­ McMoRan, which owns three major copper mines in Southwest New Mexico.

Our allies at New Mexico Environmental Law Center, on behalf of Gila Resources Information Project, Turner Ranch Properties, L.P., and Amigos Bravos, are appealing the rule at the Supreme Court.

How You Can Take Action to Save Our Water Resources

There are many ways that you can get involved to help save our water resources:

Join our Water Action Team

The Water Action Team works on our priority water issues and strategize on legislative and regulatory issues. Contact John Buchser, Water Team chair, at jbuchser@comcast.net to find out more and to join the team.

Fight dairy contamination

If you’re in streams in Southern New Mexico, contact Eric Patterson at eepatt@gmail.com or 575­.776.­2833

Become a Water Sentinel

If you live in Northern New Mexico and would like to become a Water Sentinel and monitor streams for contamination, contact Eric at eepatt@gmail.com or 575­.776.­2833

Protect the Gila

If you would like to help protect the Gila Contact Allyson Siwik, Gila Resources Information Project, at allysonsiwik@gmail.com or 575­.590­.7619

Visit our Act on the Issues Page here to find out about how you can act on urgent and other environmental issues.

Photo: recreation in the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument. Photo by Bob Wick, BLM, from WikiMedia Commons


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