Its Namesake is Water
P’e’-a-ku’ was the Keresan word used by the Pecos Pueblo Indians to describe “a place where there is water.” When the Spanish arrived in the late 1500s, it sounded like “Pecos” and was adopted to refer to the town and the major river that runs through it.
Protecting Our Prime Watersheds
The Pecos Wilderness and the surrounding Roadless Areas are home to a maze of rivers, lakes and streams that contribute to the headwaters of the Pecos River, the Mora River, and the Gallinas River. Human activities such as mining, drilling, fracking, road construction and timber harvests have the potential to degrade water quality, affecting major watersheds like the Upper Pecos, the Rio Grande and the Gallinas.
In addition to the diverse forest ecosystems that thrive in these watersheds, development could affect the water supply for the surrounding counties of Taos, Mora, Rio Arriba, San Miguel, and Santa Fe. The upper 10,000 acres of the Santa Fe Watershed are in the Pecos Wilderness Area. The watershed provides the municipal water supply for approximately 30,000 households and businesses.
Many Land Grants and Acequia Associations in New Mexico receive a significant share of their agricultural Acequia water from the Pecos River and its tributaries. Protecting the watersheds will help ensure a key source of irrigation.
What is a watershed?
A watershed is a region of land that drains to a particular body of water such as a river or a lake. Rain or snow that falls anywhere in that watershed eventually flows to that water body. It may travel overland as surface water or flow underground as groundwater. The Upper Pecos Watershed is all the land from the top of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains to the valley bottoms that drain into the Pecos River, which starts in the Wilderness and flows for 926 miles through eastern New Mexico before entering into the Rio Grande.
Cascading down from the western side of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains are headwaters that contribute to the Rio Grande Watershed, a major water supply for drinking water, farming, and wildlife in surrounding forests and communities.
Wilderness Areas and Clean Water
In the 11 western contiguous states, 50% of the water supply originates on national forests and grasslands. Of this 50%, forest lands that are protected under the Wilderness Act tend to have the healthiest watersheds. Designated Wilderness areas are “protected and managed so as to preserve [their] natural conditions”. As such, ground disturbing activities like mining, drilling and motorized recreation are excluded.
Wilderness areas help to mitigate the effects of climate change on water by providing large areas for aquifer recharge and undisturbed vegetation.
Wilderness is subject to valid, existing water rights. The designation of Wilderness would not disrupt any existing rights, authorities, facilities, or project operations. Wilderness designation would serve to further protect the headwaters contained within the designation, thus benefitting any downstream users.