The Associated Press
Created: February 13, 2020 11:00 AM
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Portions of the Gila River would be protected as wild and scenic under legislation proposed by U.S. Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich.
The New Mexico Democrats are seeking public comments as they draft the measure. They have posted online a summary of the legislation along with maps detailing proposed protection areas and other information.
The greater Gila watershed makes up the largest remaining network of naturally flowing river segments in the Southwestern United States, according to the lawmakers.
“The Gila River is an irreplaceable New Mexico treasure,” Udall said. “The Gila watershed is one of the last wild, undammed rivers in the Southwest, it is one of the most biologically diverse watersheds in our state, and it is one of New Mexico’s most iconic outdoor destinations.”
The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act created the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. Adopted in 1968, the act came at the height of the modern dam-building era to ensure that the construction of new dams was balanced with the protection of select river segments that possess nationally significant values.
The senators said the law is the highest form of protection for rivers in the United States.
Under the legislation, the Gila River’s traditional values and uses would be protected along with the free-flowing nature of some of its segments and tributaries. Aside from protecting recreational pursuits along the river, the bill would allow for continued uses such as grazing.
The senators said the bill would not change how private landowners use their own land nor would it open up private lands to public access. The bill also would not affect existing valid water rights, interstate water compacts or irrigation or water delivery operations.
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