The goal of the River Stewardship Program is to fund projects that enhance the health of rivers by addressing the root causes of poor water quality and stream habitat. Each year the New Mexico Legislature appropriates capital outlay funds for the River Stewardship Program to design and construct projects that improve surface water quality or river habitat statewide and to provide state matching funds required by the terms of any federal grant under the Clean Water Act. Annual funding has ranged from $500,000 to $2,300,000.
The River Stewardship Program builds on the success of past efforts with Clean Water Act funding and state funding for watersheds, rivers and wetlands. The objectives of the River Stewardship Program include:
- Enhancing the economic benefits of healthy river systems, such as improved opportunities to hunt, fish, float and view wildlife.
- Restoring or maintaining the hydrology of streams and rivers to better handle overbank flows and reduce flooding downstream.
- Providing match required to leverage federal grants, ensuring that New Mexico continues to receive these funds.
NMED has prepared Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) about the River Stewardship Program.
Combined Environmental and Economic Benefit
New Mexico has set standards to ensure that surface waters are of sufficient quality to support fish and other aquatic life as well as human use for recreation, irrigation, and municipal water supplies. Many of New Mexico’s streams and rivers fail to meet these water quality standards. The River Stewardship Program will address these problems and help ensure water quality for these economically important uses.
The River Stewardship Program will fund projects that improve habitat for fish and wildlife and provide safe water for swimming and other recreational activities. This in turn will support hunting, fishing, wildlife viewing, camping and boating. These activities are economically important to New Mexico, providing millions of dollars and thousands of jobs to the state economy. In 2006, 84,000 non-residents spent 467,000 days fishing in New Mexico and contributed an estimated $99 million to the state economy. In the communities of the Red River watershed, fishing contributes $6.5 million per year. As a result, the River Stewardship Program will enhance the part of New Mexico’s economy that depends on rivers and streams.
The River Stewardship Program will reduce flood hazard in downstream communities. A natural river system includes a channel (with a recognizable bed and banks) and adjacent flood plains. Even in steep canyons some flood water is temporarily stored in small floodplains, reducing the flow as a flood proceeds downstream.
Project contractors and partners have leveraged past state restoration funds on a greater than 1:1 basis with federal grants, private funds or in-kind contributions. Past state restoration funding supported the work of 68 contractors, of which 94% were New Mexico businesses or individuals.
NMED uses the funds appropriated by the NM Legislature to provide match to ensure that approximately $2.25 million per year in federal funds are awarded to New Mexico under federal Clean Water Act programs for watersheds, surface water quality and wetlands. Through these programs NMED has worked with hundreds government agency, tribal, non-profit and for-profit contractors who share the goals of clean water and healthy wildlife habitats. NMED has extensive experience managing watershed restoration funds and receives many applications for projects but has only been able fund about 20%. With the River Stewardship Program, NMED will make progress on improving surface water and stream habitat and will provide a significant return on the investment of state capital outlay funds.
River Stewardship Program projects are be distributed statewide. There is broad eligibility for applying for funding. Eligible applicants include: towns, cities, counties, soil and water conservation districts, irrigation districts, for-profit organizations, Indian Nations, Pueblos and Tribes. Federal agencies and state agencies are not eligible. Projects are selected through Requests for Proposals (RFP) using the state procurement system. Evaluation criteria ensure that projects are technically sound, community-based and stakeholder driven. Evaluation criteria favor projects that improve water quality, enhance fish and wildlife habitat, support local economies, and that reduce downstream flood hazard. The proposal evaluation committee consists of representatives of the NMED Surface Water Quality Bureau and other natural resource management agencies.