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  • In the 1970's

  • the US government commissioned a group of 100 freelance photographers to document life

  • in the US. With a particular focus on the environment. And on the pollution and waste

  • that ended up in our rivers and streams and lakes. These photos captured the unregulated

  • dumping of industrial waste into these waters, marring

  • their natural beauty. It helped the public see what a serious problem water

  • had become in the US. And show why one of the country's first environmental laws

  • in 1972 was the Clean Water Act, a law that gave federal protection to

  • US waterways from pollution from industries like mining, oil and gas extraction, real-

  • estate developers, municipal waste agencies and agriculture. But the US has millions of

  • miles of waterways and which specific

  • waterways get this protection has been a major source of disagreement between

  • the past two Presidents. And nowhere is this disagreement

  • felt more, than in the state of New Mexico.

  • We need everything we have in our power to protect our water, for drinking, for habitat

  • and really for growing food

  • And as we say here in New Mexico "El agua es vida." "Water is life."

  • This is a map of the rivers that run through New Mexico.

  • The Rio Grande Valley is the main artery of New Mexico. Many people depend on it for drinking

  • water, for irrigation, for recreation and

  • for spiritual values.

  • Behind me is the Rio Fernando.

  • It starts in the Carson National Forest

  • and it comes down all the way through the town of Taos and it continues through the

  • valleys where food is grown and it meets up with the Rio Pueblo, which then eventually

  • spills into the Rio Grande. It's an important river for birding, for habitat, for irrigation,

  • for our farms and for drinking water, too. For the town of Taos. We are sitting alongside

  • the Santa Fe River in the city of Santa Fe. Santa Fe River is basically the lifeblood

  • of northern New Mexico, especially the county of Santa Fe, and it is a source of drinking

  • water for over 80,000 people. On a map, these rivers all look like blue lines but in

  • real life, they have some major differences. Some are perennial, meaning they flow year-round,

  • all the time. That describes the Rio Grande river. Some are ephemeral, meaning they flow

  • as the result of precipitation; or intermittent meaning they only flow for part of the year.

  • The Santa Fe river and the Rio Fernando are both combinations of these two types.

  • Most major rivers in the US are perennial. But some regions, like the arid American West,

  • have a lot more ephemeral and intermittent water sources, than perennial.

  • A lot of our river flow is dependent on snowmelt

  • and to a lesser degree, our monsoon rains that that come in the summer. These

  • water types are basic ecological markers that help scientists classify streams and rivers.

  • But over the past several years, they've become a political distinction that determines

  • what gets protected and what doesn't. After the Clean Water Act went into effect

  • in 1972, the assumption was that waters of the United States, although vague,

  • meant all types of water would be protected. And it made it a

  • prosecutable offense for industries to pollute or degrade waterways unless they got explicit

  • permission through a permit. But a pair of Supreme court cases in 2001 and 2006, brought

  • by real estate developers and municipal waste agencies

  • started making exceptions for which water bodies could be protected, like

  • some wetlands and ponds. This stripping of

  • protections prompted the Obama administration, in 2015, to release this massive,

  • 400-page report, based on 1,200 peer-reviewed studies on how watersheds work. The report

  • laid out something important about how these types of water sources interact with each

  • other. In a watershed, like this. Where a perennial water source may be a primary waterway.

  • But ephemeral and intermittent streams and rivers feed into it. And surrounding wetlands

  • are either connected on the surface through flooding, or under the surface, through groundwater.

  • This whole watershed acts like a sponge, expanding and contracting with the volume of water,

  • and sharing organisms, nutrients and pollutants. Basically the different types of waterways

  • are all connected. And if you dump pollution in one part of

  • the system, it will eventually make its way to other parts.

  • This report informed the Obama Administration's Clean Water Rule, which established that all

  • of these waters should be protected under the Clean Water Act, because they promote

  • the health of all water. But in 2020, to appease industry

  • leaders, the Trump administration finalized

  • a rule that reversed Obama's Clean Water Rule, and excluded

  • intermittent, ephemeral, and isolated wetlands from federal protection.

  • The dirty water rule. It's so much easier to call it that because it is taking away

  • 90 percent of the protections in New Mexico.

  • Trump's ruling means that there's no more federal protection

  • for more than 2 million miles of US rivers

  • and streams, which ultimately flow into other water bodies. As well as more than half

  • of all remaining wetlands in the country, roughly 56 million acres, water bodies that

  • help prevent

  • flooding and serve as a wildlife habitat for migrating birds. And because

  • there's no penalty for polluters in these waters,

  • it means that the cost of cleaning up pollution

  • will now fall on local and state governments. This is an affront to every single county

  • commissioner throughout the United States...who has to clean their water. The more money they

  • have to spend on cleaning their water, the more taxes they have to raise to take care

  • of their constituents... Some states lose more protection than

  • others, like in northern New Mexico, where a

  • watershed like this one,

  • lost protection on more than 55% of its wetland acres, and 63%

  • of its protection of streams and rivers. And across the state, up to 90% of waterways lost

  • protection because of this new rule.

  • So when those federal protections are taken away we do not have a state structure or regulation

  • in place to fill that gap. And that leaves our waters really at risk to unregulated dumping

  • in the wake of this rule.

  • Lots and lots of threatened and endangered birds live

  • here on this property and all up and down the Rio Fernando.

  • It's a devastating impact to our community, to New Mexico.

  • The fate of which waterways get protection under the Clean Water Act now lies with the

  • Biden administration, Which is likely to overturn the Trump administration rule, and revert

  • back to the stricter protections from the Obama era, based on

  • the science of the 2015 water report. But that won't be without a legal fight from

  • the industries that have a lot to gain from looser protections.

  • The dirty water rule was supported by polluters... And I imagine that they're going to fight

  • to ensure that this rule makes it into the next administration's priorities. We worked

  • so hard since the 1970's to clean up our rivers, it's just shame to take these steps

  • backwards in protecting our nation's waters.

In the 1970's

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Why the American West is fighting for water protections

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    林宜悉 posted on 2021/01/05
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