A pool of water surrounded by lush green grasses
Wetlands at Valles Caldera The Rio Grande and its tributaries supply water to more than half of New Mexico’s population. © Alan W. Eckert

Stories in New Mexico

Rio Grande Water Fund

Protecting Forests and Water in Northern New Mexico

In The News: Heading Off Wildfires

  • Laura McCarthy takes tree measurements in 1985

    Face to face with Laura McCarthy

    Laura McCarthy is heading up a race against time to protect New Mexico’s waters from deadly wildfires. She talked about the Rio Grande Water Fund project in a recent interview. Read More

New Mexico’s Rio Grande and its tributaries supply water for wildlife and 1 million people. The health of these waterways is key to the health of Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Native American Pueblos and other communities—half of New Mexico's population—and an essential ingredient for our state’s economic growth. 

Established in 2014, The Nature Conservancy’s Rio Grande Water Fund is a groundbreaking project that protects and restores vital forests upstream in order to ensure a continuous supply of clean water downstream. 

The Rio Grande Water Fund protects forests and water for 1 million people in northern New Mexico and boosts local economies by creating jobs and wood for products. The project is also generating a sustainable source of funding for a 20-year program to restore 600,000 acres of forest north of Albuquerque.

Protect Clean Water

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BENEFITS OF THE RIO GRANDE WATER FUND

  • Clean and secure water
  • Outdoor recreation and tourism
  • Jobs in rural communities
  • New Mexico-grown wood products
  • Healthy fish and wildlife
  • Reduced wildfire risks

HEALTHY FORESTS & CLEAN WATER

Forests store and filter a majority of New Mexico’s watersupply. But when our forests are overcrowded, they can’t provide the clean reliable water that we need, and our health and economy are jeopardized.

Frequent, high-severity wildfires and subsequent post-fire flooding increasingly threaten the Rio Grande’s water security and cause extensive soil erosion and debris flows that degrade water quality for communities downstream.

In 2011, the Las Conchas fire burned 156,000 acres of forested land in the Jemez Mountains of northern New Mexico, setting off a cascade of problems:

  • Post-fire thunderstorms brought rain to the burned areas and created massive ash and debris flows in surrounding canyons.
  • The Rio Grande turned black with sediment and water managers halted withdrawals in Albuquerque and Santa Fe, determining the ash-laden water was not worth treating.
  • Tons of debris was deposited in Cochiti Lake, closing the area to recreation and dumping excessive sediment in the reservoir. 

Restoring overgrown forests is a proven solution to make forests safer and healthier. And research shows that fighting catastrophic mega-fires and rehabilitating damaged areas afterward can cost tens of millions of dollars. The bottom line is simple: Restoring forests now is a smarter investment.  

IMPROVING THE LOCAL ECONOMY

In addition to securing our water, the Rio Grande Water Fund is boosting the local economy by creating jobs and generating wood for timber companies. An estimated 300-600 forest worker jobs will become available each year, and the state’s tourism economy can also prosper.

By taking care of our forests today, we can sustain New Mexico’s water supply, increase social and economic benefits for local communities and contribute to an improved quality of life—now and well into the future.

HOW IT WORKS

With 60 charter signatories, we are working to generate sustainable funding for a 20-year program to restore 600,000 acres north of Albuquerque by thinning overgrown forests, managing fire, restoring wetlands and streams, educating youth, providing research to policy makers and creating forestry and wood products jobs.

Our Supporters

The Rio Grande Water Fund is made possible by our generous supporters. Contact Jackie Hall at (505) 946-2021 to learn more about how you can join this group of conservation leaders.

FOUNDING INVESTOR 

Bernalillo County
Ciudad Soil and Water Conservation District
Fire Learning Network
Dr. Steven Hecht and Dori Smith, MEd

LOR Foundation
Lowe’s Charitable and Educational Foundation
Lowe’s Companies
PNM Resources, Inc.
Ms. Dorine Smith and Mr. Steven Hecht
Taos Ski Valley Foundation
U.S. Bureau of Reclamation via the Southern Rockies Landscape Conservation Cooperative
U.S. Forest Service

 

SECURE INVESTOR

Albuquerque Community Foundation
Jonathan and Kathleen Altman Foundation
Avalon Trust
Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority
Edgewood Soil & Water Conservation District
General Mills Foundation
Lineberry Foundation
New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission
U.S. Geological Survey
Wells Fargo Bank/Wells Fargo Foundation

 

ADDITIONAL SUPPORT PROVIDED BY

Bank of Albuquerque
Kathleen Bearden
Mr. Irving M. Deitz III
Hannah Miller Consulting, LLC
Mr. and Mrs. James Hinton
Johnson & Johnson Matching Gifts
Kelly’s Brewery
Los Alamos National Bank
Mrs. Jennifer M. Mammoli
Miller Engineers, Inc.
National Forest Foundation
SCM Partners, LLC
James D. Smith
Stagg Family Fund
Taos Community Foundation

LEAD INVESTOR

Albuquerque Metropolitan Arroyo Flood Control Authority
Anonymous
Buckman Direct Diversion Project
McCune Charitable Foundation
Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District
New Mexico Department of Game and Fish
New Mexico Watershed and Dam Owners Coalition
NM EPSCoR
Santa Fe Community Foundation

 

CONTRIBUTOR

Anonymous
Bohannan Huston
Kristen and James Hinton
Los Alamos County
Los Alamos National Laboratory and Los Alamos National Security, LLC
National Forest Foundation
New Mexico Coalition of Conservation Districts
Tides Foundation
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
United Way of Central New Mexico
Williams Family Charitable Foundation

  • girl drinks water from a fountain

    Comprehensive Plan

    View the "Comprehensive Plan for Wildlife and Water Source Protection" to learn how the Rio Grande Water Fund is ensuring clean water for New Mexicans for generations to come. Download the Report