New Mexico Made Streams and Rivers Private Property
An article by Cassidy Randall has raised the national profile of a battle over public access to streams taking place in New Mexico.
Up until recently, "the fate of public waterways has largely flown under the radar" in New Mexico, writes Randall. "Now New Mexico has become a battleground for that very issue, with the state government, landowners, and outfitters on one side of the fight and anglers, boaters, recreationalists and heritage users on the other. At the heart of the argument: who owns the water that has long been considered the lifeblood of the arid west."
Boaters and fishermen have long known that there are places you can't step on shore, but you're still free to float down the river. Commercial whitewater rafting outfits implement quiet zones along stretches of rivers where private landowners have raised concerns about commercial operators passing by. "Private landowners have long taken unsanctioned steps to keep the public out of waterways, as in the recent case of an Arizona man convicted of shooting at kayakers boating down a river that runs through his land," according to Randall. So what's different about New Mexico's case?
According to Randall, "in the last hours of 2015, efforts to bar public access received official sanction, when New Mexico’s state government quickly and quietly passed a bill that implies private ownership of public waters that run through private land."
"The rule remained mostly dormant until late December, when in a special meeting with only 10 days’ notice – just a third of the 30-day standard – the state began a process to allow landowners to certify streambeds as private property," adds Randall. That has led to landowners placing barbed wire across rivers, like in an example described in the article on the Pecos River.