Restoring the Rio Grande Through a Pueblos Alliance
Residents in New Mexico understand that water is a scarce resource. So too are the habitats associated with it, and like water, those habitats are vital. Riparian habitat, which occurs alongside rivers and in floodplains, supports a greater diversity of breeding birds than all other habitats in the state combined.
Unfortunately, water diversion, urbanization, and flood control projects have severely disrupted the Rio Grande, and riparian habitat now comprises less than one percent of New Mexico’s semi-arid landscape. This has had disastrous results for native habitats and their associated species: the aging cottonwood forest, for example – a signature feature of Rio Grande bosque habitat – is unable to regenerate given the river’s current degraded state. It has also had cultural ramifications, such as in Santa Clara Pueblo, where the disappearance of certain significant plants and wildlife along the Rio Grande has eroded Pueblo cultural traditions and practices.
In an unprecedented alliance, and with help from a Toyota TogetherGreen Innovation Grant, Audubon New Mexico is working with three native Pueblos (Ohkay Owingeh, Santa Clara, and San Ildefonso) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to restore the river and reduce flood risk. The project covers 12 miles of the Rio Grande and crosses several tribal boundaries.
If anyone knows how to restore the river to a healthy state, it’s the people of Ohkay Owingeh, Santa Clara, and San Ildefonso Pueblos, who have co-existed with the Rio Grande for hundreds of years. Along with Audubon New Mexico, they have been working with the Army Corps of Engineers to identify, design, and prioritize flood protection and ecosystem restoration measures. The result? Healthier, more vital communities – both riparian and human.