New Mexico Game Commission Votes to Reject 5 Stream Privatization Applications
In a meeting at the State Capitol in Santa Fe yesterday morning, the New Mexico Game Commission voted unanimously to reject 5 pending applications for non-navigable water status – a certification which has resulted in closing off whitewater segments to boating with concertina wire fences and dangerous diversions since its inception in 2017.
The vote came on the heels of a dramatic meeting in June at which the Commissioners were slated to review the 5 new applications. In a surprise turn of events, the chairwoman, citing a potential conflict of interest, pushed back the hearing until today. American Whitewater, as a member of the New Mexico Paddlers Coalition and in partnership with organizations such as New Mexico Wilderness Alliance and New Mexico Wildlife Federation, has been providing detailed comments to the commission identifying that not only are the proposed “non-navigable” segments of river in fact navigable, but it also flies in the face of the New Mexico constitution which protects all unappropriated waters of the state as belonging to the public.
Jeremy Vesbach, vice-chairman of the commission, said he couldn’t vote to approve any of the applications.
“I think it’s a denial of the public’s constitutional rights, to deny access to the streambed,” Vesbach said. He added that it’s well known that people have floated watercraft on several of the rivers at issue.
Commissioner Tirzio Lopez held up a copy of his signed oath of office .
“This piece of paper here is the oath I took on becoming a New Mexico state game commissioner,” Lopez said. He proceeded to read the portion that says the unappropriated water of the state belongs to the public.
Commissioner Jimmy Bates, the lone Republican on the commission, voted to deny the applications but made no comment.
Commission Chair Sharon Salazar Hickey abstained from the votes, noting that the New Mexico Wildlife Federation and other groups have a pending legal challenge against the certification program.
American Whitewater developed maps like the one shown here for all properties either already certified and the 5 pending applications which were rejected today. These maps were instrumental in displaying exactly what impacts these piece-meal stream privatization measures are having on amazing river recreation resources for boating, angling, hunting and more.
This is an enormous win in an ongoing war to protect the lawfully protected right for the public to access its rivers and streams. We are still awaiting a decision from the NM Supreme Court on the constitutionality of the rule that made these applications possible.