NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – The state Supreme Court said every New Mexican has the right to access public waterways, but controversy over a continued lack of access to public water on private land now has the state Attorney General’s office looking at how it can enforce the rule.
“This is a real issue now and we have an opportunity to fix this before it results in some type of tragedy on our waterway,” said the state Wildlife Federation Executive Director, Jesse Deubel. That issue, Deubel said, is the illegal fences that have been placed by landowners to block access to public rivers and streams. “If I am on my pack raft, I can’t get through that fence and that is frustrating, but it is not as dangerous as countless other pictures I can show you that are truly life-threatening obstacles on our public waterways,” Deubel said.
Last August, the New Mexico Supreme Court issued a ruling allowing the public to wade through public water even if it crossed private property. “The New Mexico Supreme Court started with the proposition the water itself is public, but acknowledge that the bed of the water and the banks can be private especially if it is non-navigable water,” said New Mexico Chief Deputy Attorney General, James Grayson.
While New Mexico’s Department of Game and Fish said it acknowledges the decision, Director Michael Sloan says some of the wording in the ruling has made it hard to determine how the department should deal with landowners. “We have instructed them that when wading in the wedded part of the stream, that it is clearly legal, that there can be no trespassing signs preventing that. But we have not been able to come up with appropriate language related to fencing and how to address that,” Sloan said.
Democratic state Representative Matthew McQueen said, while he sees the conflict, he’s pushing for state agencies to quickly figure out how to handle it. “To me, it’s about going forward. How are we going to enforce the public’s right to access public waters because currently, we are not,” said Rep. Matthew McQueen (D-Sandoval and Santa Fe).
The state’s Attorney General’s office said it plans to make contact with private landowners who continue to fence off or block waterways and will file lawsuits against landowners who don’t comply.