Most Endangered Rivers Report 2024 Names Rivers of New Mexico #1

April 16, 2024

Annual List spotlights loss of federal protections threatening clean water, agriculture, economy, and heritage 

Washington, D.C. – American Rivers today named the Rivers of New Mexico #1 on its annual list of America’s Most Endangered Rivers®, citing a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that left virtually all of the state’s streams and wetlands vulnerable to pollution and harmful development. 

The May 2023 Supreme Court ruling in Sackett v. EPA dramatically reduced federal clean water protections for streams and wetlands nationwide–arguably harming New Mexico the most of all the states. This federal action opens the door to devastating pollution and habitat damage, with potential harmful downstream impacts to the Rio Grande, Gila, San Juan, and Pecos rivers.   

“People depend on this water. We have depended on this water for hundreds of years. This is our tradition, this is our culture. We don’t want to be a people that loses its traditions because we haven’t taken the right steps to protect our rivers,” said Vicente Fernandez, acequia mayordomo and community leader. “Our acequia has been a vital part of our community. It provides water for irrigation and watering of animals, so the importance of this river is great. Without this river, we would not be able to survive. It is very important to our culture and our traditional way of life.”  

“Santa Fe’s drinking water depends on strong protections for small streams that feed into the Santa Fe River and the Rio Grande. The Sackett decision has stripped away those protections and our residents are now at risk,” said Anna Hansen, Santa Fe County Commission. 

The state’s commitment and proven record of protecting its clean water and remarkable natural resources is more important now than ever. The Sackett court decision scaled back national Clean Water Act safeguards to include protections only for “relatively permanent” streams, and wetlands with a “continuous surface connection” to those streams. This means that streams that only run during the rainy season or for periods of the year after snowmelt– which is very typical in New Mexico – fall outside the Clean Water Act protections. And, in New Mexico, the majority of wetlands have an intermittent surface connection to streams or a groundwater connection, and therefore New Mexico wetlands–which provide important ecological services–are at grave risk.  

In addition, because New Mexico doesn’t have a state surface water permitting program in place yet to ensure its rivers are appropriately protected, clean water advocates in New Mexico have called on the State of New Mexico to develop, fund, and implement a state surface water permitting program to protect at-risk rivers, streams and wetlands that lost federal protections due to the Supreme Court ruling. 

“Anyone who lives here knows the importance of protecting our waterways. And our waterways don’t always have water in them, and we know that they only flow some times throughout the year. But that doesn’t mean they are any less deserving of protection,” said Beata Tsosie-Peña, Breath of My Heart Birthplace. “The Southwest is really vulnerable to losing these kinds of protections. Because our watersheds are so precious, any kind of impact to our waterways, whether they are a river system or a pathway into that river system, have to stay protected if we want our communities to stay healthy.”  

New Mexico’s rivers and streams are the lifeblood of the state’s economy, environment, cultural history, and quality of life. In addition to sustaining life for plants and animals, rivers and streams provide a source of clean drinking water for a majority of New Mexico’s population. Clean water from rivers and streams is essential for New Mexico’s acequias, or community ditches, which are integral to New Mexico’s traditions and economy. A large portion of the state’s multi-billion-dollar recreation economy–which includes rafting, fishing, boating, and hunting–is dependent on healthy rivers and clean water. 

“My father started our family’s fly fishing business over 40 years ago. Our success as a family and a business is directly tied to clean water,” said Nick Streit, owner, Taos Fly Shop and The Reel Life. “I take people fishing, and for people to have fun they need to catch fish, and fish need clean water and healthy streams. Waste treatment plants, old mining claims, all of these things can devastate a stream if left unchecked.”  

“The Supreme Court ruling flies in the face of established science and ignores the value that small streams and wetlands have to their broader watersheds, communities, and economies, particularly in places with dry climates like New Mexico,” said Matt Rice, Southwest regional director for American Rivers. “The State of New Mexico needs strong public support to ensure we’re able to safeguard these streams and rivers for today’s communities and future generations.” 

The annual America’s Most Endangered Rivers® report is a list of rivers at a crossroads, where key decisions in the coming months will determine the rivers’ fates. Over the years, the report has helped spur many successes including the removal of outdated dams, the protection of rivers with Wild and Scenic designations, and the prevention of harmful development and pollution. 

Several New Mexico rivers have been listed in past reports for issues ranging from outdated water management plans to mining and pollution. Most recently, these include the Rio Gallinas (2023), Pecos River (2021), and the Gila River (2019 and 2014). 

American Rivers reviews nominations for America’s Most Endangered Rivers® from local groups and individuals across the country, and selects rivers based on three criteria:  

  1. The river’s significance to people and wildlife 
  2. The magnitude of the threat to the river and communities, especially in light of climate change and environmental injustice 
  3. A decision in the next 12 months that the public can influence 

America’s Most Endangered Rivers® of 2024 

#1: Rivers of New Mexico   
Threat: Loss of federal clean water protections  

#2: Big Sunflower and Yazoo Rivers (MS) 
Threat: Yazoo Pumps project threatens wetlands  

#3: Duck River (TN)  
Threat: Excessive water use   

#4: Santa Cruz River (AZ, Mexico)  
Threat: Water scarcity, climate change  

#5 Little Pee Dee River (NC, SC) 
Threat: Harmful development, highway construction  

#6 Farmington River (CT, MA) 
Threat: Hydro dam  

#7: Trinity River (CA)  
Threat: Outdated water management  

#8: Kobuk River (AK) 
Threat: Road construction, mining  

#9 Tijuana River (CA, Mexico) 
Threat: Pollution  

#10: Blackwater River (WV) 
Threat: Highway development  

About American Rivers 
American Rivers is championing a national effort to protect and restore all rivers, from remote mountain streams to urban waterways. Healthy rivers provide people and nature with clean, abundant water and natural habitat. For 50 years, American Rivers staff, supporters, and partners have shared a common belief: Life Depends on RiversSM.