Taos, N.M. —
Twice a day, every day, Vicente Fernandez walks along the banks of the Rio Fernando, inspecting the river that has shaped his valley’s fortunes for generations.
Like his father and his grandfather before him, Fernandez is a mayordomo — the manager of a centuries-old network of irrigation ditches called acequias that divert water from the river into nearby fields. Hundreds of families in the Taos Valley rely on it to nourish their gardens and fruit trees and to replenish the aquifer they depend on for drinking water.
But the future of the Rio Fernando and its acequias is murky.
Early in the coming year, President Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency plans to roll back clean water rules, abolishing limits on how much pollution can be dumped into small streams and wetlands.
Federal data suggest 81% of streams in the Southwest would lose protections. A large share of streams in California and other Western states will be hard hit.
Nowhere are the stakes as high as in New Mexico. Environmental regulators in the state estimate that the new rule could leave 96% of the state’s waterways and wetlands unprotected from pollution from coal mines, factory waste, pesticide runoff and other sources.
And New Mexico does not have its own regulations to fill the void, which makes its waterways particularly vulnerable.