Las Cruces, NM— Streams and wetlands in New Mexico are at risk of unlimited pollution, according to a report released today by Environment New Mexico, Courting Disaster: How the Supreme Court Has Broken the Clean Water Act and Why Congress Must Fix It.
One case study highlighted in this report is that Cannon Air Force Base in Curry County discharges 750,000 gallons a day from its wastewater treatment plant. For more then a decade, the facility operated under a Clean Water Act permit to treat its waste, which is used to irrigate a nearby golf course and is discharged into a local playa lake. This is just one example of New Mexico waters at risk.
The report also provides 30 additional nationwide case studies demonstrating how the federal Clean Water Act is broken and calling on Representative Teague to fix it. “Polluters are trying to break open the floodgates to dumping unlimited pollution into New Mexico waterways,” said Jake Horowitz, Mountain West Field Associate with Environment New Mexico. “Representative Teague must shut the door on dirty special interests and protect New Mexico's treasured waterways, like the Rio Grande and Pecos rivers, as well as our smaller wetlands and waterways that provide us with our drinking water and recreation.”
“Recent rollbacks to the Clean Water Act have swept away 30 years of protection for some of New Mexico’s most important waters and waterways across the country,” said Horowitz. “Polluters have been given a green light to ignore the Clean Water Act, even when it may destroy a stream or affect our drinking water supplies.” The case studies in the report indicate that streams, rivers, wetlands, lakes and other waters across the nation are now more vulnerable to pollution and destruction. These cases provide examples of the estimated 15,000 water bodies that federal agencies have declared unprotected in the last eight years.
Today’s report is largely based on information obtained through district offices of the Army Corps of Engineers, or from Corps headquarters, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Department of Justice. The case study on the Cannon Air Force Base wastewater disposal found: The Clean Water Act's pollution control requirements historically applied to the playa lakes, but in 2005, the base hired a consultant to study whether the Act covered the lake. The report noted that “the limited water resources in the area are extremely important for wildlife and the surrounding vegetation,” but nonetheless concluded that the playa lake lacked Clean Water Act protection.
Without a Clean Water Act permit, Cannon could discharge wastewater into the playa lake without regard to that law's requirement to limit releases to comply with state water quality standards. Wastewater at the base contains selenium, oils and greases, chloride, sulfate, nitrogen, and phosphorus. If left unchecked, these chemicals could pose a threat to human health and the local ecosystems. The four thousand active-duty military members and civilians who currently work on the base deserve better.
Environment New Mexico emphasized that pollution of headwater streams and wetlands leads to greater pollution which affects aquatic wild life and flooding for downstream communities. “Pollution affects aquatic fauna adversely which limits angling activities and success, thus having a negative impact on New Mexico's economy,” stated Sanford Schemnitz, Chairman of the Southwest Consolidated Sportsmen. “From the Rio Grande to the Pecos, New Mexico's water is at risk. Water is a limited resource in New Mexico and should be protected at all costs. Congress needs to act to ensure those protections.”
The EPA has estimated that some 20 million acres of wetlands in the continental United States may lose federal protection because of the rollbacks to the Clean Water Act. In addition, tens of thousands of miles of seasonal and headwater streams like the Red River, and countless numbers of small lakes, and ponds could be left without federal protection from water pollution. In June, the Senate Environment and Public Works committee passed a bill, the Clean Water Restoration Act, which would restore the Clean Water Act. Now it is up to the House Transportation and Infrastructure committee to take up a similar bill. Horowitz concluded, "We thank Senator Udall for voting for the Clean Water Restoration Act and getting us steps closer to finally restoring the Clean Water Act. Now it’s up to Representative Teague to protect all of our lakes, rivers and streams from pollution this year.”