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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

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EPA to Oversee Evaluation of New Mexico's Watersheds

LAS CRUCES -- The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has asked New Mexico agencies and tribal councils to help evaluate the overall health of the state's 83 major watersheds.

Working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the EPA recently released the national "Clean Water Action Plan." Cooperating agencies are being asked to combine existing data about state watersheds and set up a rating system to make recommendations for improving watershed quality in each state.

A watershed is a geographic area with boundaries defined by elevation from which water drains to a given point, said Craig Runyan, water quality specialist with New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service. Characteristics, including vegetation, slope and soil type, impact the quality of water drained from watersheds. Land use activities, whether urban or agricultural, also affect water quality.

"The initial step will be to survey the state's water to find out where educational efforts and other programs should be concentrated," Runyan said. "Agencies have been asked to pool their data to assess the waterways." Once the data is compiled, watersheds will be placed into one of four categories. Level one watersheds are those in need of restoration. Level two watersheds need action to sustain their condition. "This means they don't need immediate attention, but land stewardship practices need to continue to maintain current quality," Runyan said.

Level three watersheds have pristine or sensitive aquatic conditions. This category is reserved for land managed by state, federal or tribal agencies. The fourth category is for watersheds with insufficient data to assess their status.

After classification, the needs of each area will be assessed. Educational and other programs will be conducted in communities with affected watersheds, Runyan said. "Extension will take an active role in developing educational programs for areas with watersheds in need."

Local government officials and private landowners will learn effective land use practices to improve water and watershed quality, he added.