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Surface Water Quality Bureau
Water Quality Standards
Outstanding National Resource Waters
Frequently Asked Questions

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Rio Nambe, high in the Pecos Wilderness
1.

What are Outstanding National Resource Waters?

2.

What waters are designated as ONRWs? When were they designated?

3.

What is the process for designating an ONRW?

4.

What special water quality protection do ONRWs receive?

5.

Does ONRW designation affect preexisting land-use activities?

6.

How does ONRW designation affect future activities on public and private land?

7.

What is an oversight agency?

8.

Under what circumstances can water quality degradation be allowed in an ONRW?

9.

What about fire management activities?

Kris Pintado
Standards Coordinator
(505) 827-2822

WHAT'S NEW...

Bulleted item ONRW FAQs
Bulleted item Wilderness Designations

10.

How can I find out what temporary degradation to an ONRW has been approved?

11. Where can I get more information about ONRWs?
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1.

What are Outstanding National Resource Waters?

Outstanding National Resource Waters (ONRWs) are streams, lakes and wetlands that receive special protection against degradation under New Mexico’s water quality standards and the federal Clean Water Act. They are designated by the Water Quality Control Commission.

Waters eligible for ONRW designation include waters that are part of a national or state park, wildlife refuge or wilderness areas, special trout waters, waters with exceptional recreational or ecological signifance, and high quality waters that have not been significantly modified by human activities.

2.

What waters are designated as ONRWs? When were they designated?

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All surface waters within the U.S. Forest Service Valle Vidal Special Management Unit – see map. These waters were designated in February 2006.

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Approximately 700 miles of 192 perennial streams, 29 lakes and approximately 6,000 acres of wetlands in U.S. Forest Service Wilderness Areas – see the list and maps of the designated waters. The Rio Santa Barbara, including its west, middle and east forks, was designated in May 2005. The other wilderness ONRWs were designated in December 2010.

3.

What is the process for designating an ONRW?

Any person may nominate a surface water for designation as an ONRW by filing a petition with the Water Quality Control Commission. The petition must set forth sufficient justification for the proposed designation. Public notice of the petition must be provided and a public hearing held before the Commission makes a decision on the petition. The requirements for nominating an ONRW are set forth in the water quality standards at 20.6.4.9.B NMAC.

4.

What special water quality protection do ONRWs receive?

New Mexico’s Water Quality Standards establish designated uses for water bodies, set criteria to protect those uses, and establish provisions to preserve water quality. ONRWs are subject to the same water quality criteria as other waters with the same designated uses; however, ONRWs receive additional protection aimed at preserving water quality. Degradation of water quality is not allowed in ONRWs except under very limited circumstances.  Where water quality meets or exceeds standards, that higher water quality must be protected.

5.

Does ONRW designation affect preexisting land-use activities?

Land-use activities in existence at the time an ONRW is designated will not be affected so long as they are allowed by state or federal law, controlled by best management practices, and do not result in new or increased discharges of contaminants to the ONRW. Examples of such activities that occur near currently designated ONRWs include recreation and grazing. In addition, acequia operation, maintenance and repair are not subject to new requirements because of ONRW designation.

6.

How does ONRW designation affect future activities on public and private land?

 New land uses or activities can proceed so long as they do not impact water quality in the ONRW.  If a proposed project on public land has the potential to cause degradation in an ONRW from nonpoint sources, it would be reviewed by the oversight agency to make sure it can be proceed in a manner consistent with ONRW protection.

A proposed activity on public or private land that requires a water quality protection permit would be reviewed during the permitting process. Section 404 permits are required for the discharge of dredged or fill material into a waterway or wetland, and National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits are required for point source discharges, including storwater runoff from construction sites.

7.

What is an oversight agency?

An oversight agency is a state or federal agency that is responsible for land use or water quality management decisions affecting nonpoint source discharges where an ONRW is located. The U.S. Forest Service is currently the only oversight agency because all ONRWs in New Mexico are located on U.S. Forest Service lands at this time.

An oversight agency must ensure that its permitting decisions, environmental evaluations and other actions contain terms, conditions or requirements that comply with New Mexico’s water quality standards, including the antidegradation protection that applies to ONRWs. An oversight agency has the authority to approve pre-existing activities and new activities with appropriate best management practices to protect ONRWs from nonpoint source pollution. An oversight agency also approves and implements watershed restoration and maintenance activities that may result in temporary degradation to an ONRW. For more information about oversight agencies, see the WQCC’s Guidance for Nonpoint Source Discharges in ONRWs.

8.

Under what circumstances can water quality degradation be allowed in an ONRW?

Temporary degradation from certain activities can be allowed, but only in two circumstances:

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For public health and safety. Temporary degradation lasting no longer than six months may be allowed if necessary to accommodate public health or safety activities. Requests for temporary and short-term degradation must be considered by the Water Quality Control Commission. Emergency actions may proceed without prior approval, but the Surface Water Quality Bureau must be notified and best efforts made to limit the degradation. For more information about temporary and short-term degradation, see Protecting ONRWs - Fact Sheet #1.

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For water quality restoration or maintenance. Temporary degradation resulting from projects or activities to restore or maintain the physical, chemical or biological integrity of the ONRW may be approved by the Surface Water Quality Bureau or an oversight agency. Such activities are encouraged and should not be delayed or prohibited as result of ONRW designation. Degradation must be minimized and limited to the shortest possible time. Water quality monitoring may be required, especially if the degradation will last longer than six months. For more information about restoration activities in ONRWs, see Protecting ONRWs - Fact Sheet #2.

9.

What about fire management activities?

Prescribed fires can be approved by an oversight agency as an activity that will result in the restoration or maintenance of the physical, chemical or biological integrity of an ONRW. As with other restoration or maintenance activities, however, the degradation must be minimized and limited to the shortest possible time. With respect to an unplanned wildfire, the ONRW provisions do not require that the fire be suppressed even though it may cause degradation in an ONRW. In fact, the changes resulting from fire can be considered part of the “essential character” of an ONRW in a Wilderness area or other areas with little human disturbance. However, impacts to ONRWs from any efforts to manage or suppress a wildfire should be minimized by the use of best management practices.

10.

How can I find out what temporary degradation to an ONRW has been approved?

Notice of approvals of temporary degradation in an ONRW – due to a health and safety need or as a result of a restoration project – is posted here. A summary of all actions taken related to the potential impact of nonpoint sources on ONRWs is included in the New Mexico Nonpoint Source Management Program Annual Report.

11.

Where can I get more information about ONRWs?

The administrative rules concerning ONRWs are contained in New Mexico’s Standards for Interstate and Intrastate Surface Waters at 20.6.4.8 and 9 NMAC. Two other documents guide ONRW policy: the Antidegradation Policy Implementation Procedure describes how degradation is prevented when a Clean Water Act permit is required, and the Guidance for Nonpoint Source Discharges in ONRWs describes how degradation from nonpoint sources is prevented with the assistance of oversight agencies.

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WQCC-APPROVED STANDARDS (US EPA Approval Pending)
Bulleted item... FINAL AMENDMENTS - Approved December 15, 2010
Effective January 14, 2011
87 kb Download the 87 kb PDF today...
 
Bulleted item... Antidegradation Policy Implementation Procedure
181 kb Download the 181 kb PDF today...
 
Bulleted item... Nonpoint Source Guidance for ONRWs
29 kb Download the 29 kb PDF today...
    

ARCHIVAL DOCUMENTS...

September 14 - 17 & October 12 - 14, 2010 WQCC Public Hearing
Bulleted item... WQCC Order & Statement of Reasons for Adoption 2.4 MB Download the 2.4 MB PDF...
Bulleted item... Pleading Log Archive    
Bulleted item... Public Hearing Transcripts
    

For more information about ONRWs or the process for nominating waters as ONRWs, please contact SWQB's acting Standards Coordinator, Kris Pintado, at (505)827-2822.

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