Our leaders must protect at-risk waters



Santa Fe New Mexican



November is a month that invites gratitude for harvests, family, traditions, cultures and all that give us life. Water is one of our most sacred gifts for which we give thanks. As a Franciscan sister, and director of New Mexico Interfaith Power and Light and part of the Communities for Clean Water Coalition, the preciousness of water in New Mexico is of utmost importance. The September Environmental Protection Agency rule implementing U.S. Supreme Court ruling Sackett v. EPA was very disheartening. This ruling displayed a lack of understanding and respect of “sister water” and the connection with Earth in our semi-arid state where 90% of our streams do not flow all of the time. Because of this ruling, the Clean Water Act now only protects wetlands that have a “continuous surface water connection” to other waters that are covered in the Clean Water Act. Previously, wetlands that were “bordering” or “neighboring” were also covered. In addition, it removes the standard of measurement of waters to “relatively permanent,” thus excluding protection of 90% of New Mexico waters that are ephemeral or intermittent. This decision is devastating for our communities, land, water and creatures. Our work with the Communities for Clean Water to protect waterways and the Rio Grande from pollution from Los Alamos National Laboratory is vital in calling accountability to historical pollution that continues to affect frontline communities in the Rio Grande Valley. The state needs to move quickly to get the surface-water-quality permitting program up and running for these affected communities. Working with the frontline oil and gas communities in southeast New Mexico, water is also a concern as more and more fracking affects life and health in that region. These areas and many others in the state need to have wetlands and other surface waters protected from dredge and fill impacts as well as protection by developing a surface water quality discharge program. As we face increasing effects of climate change, we and our leaders need to take immediate moral and ethical responsibility to develop a program that protects the most at-risk waters right away. After this, a phase-in full program that covers all New Mexico waters as soon as possible is needed. We already suffer from too many legacy pollution sites or sacrifice zones in our state, where industry has not acted responsibly. Our prayers of thanksgiving for life, the gifts of family, water, land and food invite us this month to act with hearts of gratitude to protect our waters. Without clean water, we do not have life. Our children and the future can only continue to offer gratitude for life if we protect our water and land. Sister Joan Brown is executive director of New Mexico & El Paso Interfaith Power and Light and lives in Albuquerque. She is also a part of Communities for Clean Water, a coalition committed to protecting New Mexico waters.