Industrial facilities dumped 49,786 pounds of toxic chemicals into NM’s lakes, rivers and streams in 2010, according to a recent report from Environment New Mexico: Wasting Our Waterways: Industrial Toxic Pollution and the Unfulfilled Promise of the Clean Water Act.

New Mexico’s waterways are a polluter’s paradise right now,” said Maxine Paul, preservation associate with Environment New Mexico. “We must turn the tide of toxic pollution by restoring Clean Water Act protections.”

Joe Moody, who runs Squash Blossom Farm at the end of the Santa Fe River, said of the farming business, “Weak regulations and enforcement have already done harm. Farming in an arid region is difficult enough without the worry of toxins in our water supply.” Francois-Marie Patorni of the Santa Fe Watershed Association said, “To speak the obvious, not one drop of water can be taken for granted. Ever. The Watershed Association supports a living Santa Fe River and a green watershed through various programs. A lot has been accomplished here, including the passing of an ordinance guaranteeing water in the river each year. But the Santa Fe River is just one river. All stewards of the environment should work together in securing clean water for all rivers in NM.”

Environment New Mexico’s report documents and analyzes the levels of pollutants discharged by compiling toxic chemical releases reported to the EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory for 2010, the most recent data available. The report’s major findings include:

The biggest polluter in the state was the Department of Defense, releasing over 46,000 lbs. of toxics at the Holloman Air Force base near Alamogordo within one year.

Over 1,000 lbs. of toxics were discharged into the Chamas Creek in the Apache National Forest and Morgan Lake, near Farmington

Industrial facilities discharged approximately 181 lbs. of chemicals linked to cancer, and 140 lbs. of chemicals linked to developmental and reproductive harm into NM waterways.

The report summarizes discharges of chemicals that persist in the environment, and those with the potential to cause reproductive problems ranging from birth defects to reduced fertility. Toxic chemicals discharged by facilities include arsenic, mercury and benzene. Exposure to these chemicals has been linked to cancer, developmental and reproductive disorders.

Paul says that there are commonsense steps that can be taken to turn the tide against this pollution, which is threatening 88 percent of the state’s waterways. Environment New Mexico recommends the following:

1. Pollution Prevention: Industrial facilities should reduce their toxic discharges by switching from hazardous chemicals to safer alternatives.

2. Protect All Waters: The Obama administration should finalize guidelines and conduct a rulemaking to clarify that the Clean Water Act applies to all waterways—the 95,611 miles of streams in NM, as well as the state’s drinking water, for which jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act has been called into question as a result of two Supreme Court decisions in the last decade.

3. Tough Permitting and Enforcement: The EPA and state agencies should issue permits with tough, numeric limits for each type of toxic pollution discharged, ratchet down those limits over time, and enforce those limits with credible penalties, not just warning letters.

Maxine Paul’s conclusion: “We need clean water now, and are counting on the federal government to act to protect our health and our environment.”