Wa­ter rule could drain pro­tec­tions from Taos County wet­lands, ar­royos

The Taos News - - ENVIRONMENT -

The En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency in­tends to pro­pose a new rule for pro­tec­tions of streams and wet­lands that would leave out many in Taos County.

The pro­posed new fed­eral rule was an­nounced Tues­day (Dec. 11). It would re­place a 2015 def­i­ni­tion of “wa­ters of the United States,” which was de­vel­oped dur­ing the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion un­der the Clean Wa­ter Act. The 2015 def­i­ni­tion ex­panded the wa­ter­ways el­i­gi­ble for fed­eral pro­tec­tions to ephemeral streams, or those that only flow when snow melts or rain falls.

The new rule would re­move ephemeral streams and wet­lands that don’t have an above-ground con­nec­tion to a body of wa­ter, two types of wa­ter­ways that are preva­lent through­out Taos County and vi­tal to the re­gion’s wa­ter­shed.

“It’s a re­ally bad rule for New Mex­ico and Taos County,” said Rachel Conn, projects di­rec­tor for Ami­gos Bravos, a wa­ter pol­icy and ad­vo­cacy or­ga­ni­za­tion based in Taos. “Ami­gos Bravos doesn’t think any body of wa­ter should be open to pol­lu­tion or de­struc­tion, but this is ex­actly what this rule does by strip­ping Clean Wa­ter Act pro­tec­tions from cru­cial streams and wet­lands in Taos County.”

Midnight Mead­ows, the moun­tain wet­land in the Cabresto Canyon area of the Red River wa­ter­shed, is one such “wa­ters of the United States” that would lose these fed­eral pro­tec­tions, Conn said. “It’s not the typ­i­cal wet­lands, where you have big cat­tails and stand­ing wa­ter,” Conn said.

Other ephemeral streams, such as the rock-lined ar­royo that runs through the south­ern end of the town of Taos, could also be im­pacted, she said.

Some na­tion­wide ranch­ing and farm­ing or­ga­ni­za­tions ap­plauded the pro­posed rule as a vic­tory for ru­ral, land-based people. Caren Cowan, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the New Mex­ico Cat­tle-grow­ers As­so­ci­a­tion, said her or­ga­ni­za­tion is still re­view­ing the pro­posed rule.

A 60-day pub­lic com­ment pe­riod on the new rule is open upon pub­li­ca­tion in the Fed­eral Reg­is­trar, which had not hap­pened as of Wed­nes­day (Dec. 19). The EPA is host­ing one lis­ten­ing ses­sion, in Kansas, about the pro­posed rule.

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