On May 25th, 2023, the Supreme Court released a devastating ruling eliminating federal safeguards for our waterways by gutting the Clean Waters Act. In the decision, they ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency cannot enforce protections for our nation’s wetlands. The new danger is that this language could easily be applied to all surface waters. Without these federal protections, New Mexico is now one of only three states without a permitting program to protect our surface waters from pollution discharge.
The ramifications for New Mexico are potentially devastating. As much as 94% of our surface waters are seasonal and could easily lose federal protection. Since this ruling, the New Mexico Conservation Coalition and other water allies throughout the state acted quickly to try and address this lack of protection as expeditiously as possible. As of now, we and our allies are narrowing focus on two primary bills: wetlands legislation to address gaps in law following the EPA vs. Sackett ruling, and a state surface water permitting program.
Going into the 2024 30-day budgetary session, we are working closely with the Administration, coalition partners, and other allies to shape proposed solutions. We are advocating for increased New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) funding through a change to the state Water Quality Act’s provision for a “water fund”. With additional revenue, NMED can support a temporary enforcement program to protect surface water quality until the state permitting program can be implemented and conduct a statewide analysis of wetland and stream connectivity to better understand how New Mexico’s unique hydrology has been affected by the Supreme Court’s decision and what protections are necessary moving forward.
If you’d like to learn more about this, CVNM, with the Protect New Mexico Waters coalition, launched a comprehensive interactive website highlighting the dangers posed by the Supreme Court’s decision and measures being taken to address it. You can find it here.