New Mexico

Science in Action on the Gila River

The Gila River’s future is uncertain. Your support will help save it. 

One of the Southwest’s last major free-flowing rivers, the Gila River supports a great diversity of plant and animal life balanced with agricultural and recreational uses. In New Mexico, it’s truly a ribbon of life. 

That’s why more than 45 scientists with expertise in the Gila River’s hydrology and ecology—including several Conservancy staff—contributed to a new report that describes the river’s current condition and examines potential impacts of diversion and climate change. 

WHAT WE LEARNED 

The news was sobering. Key findings include:

  • Disruptions to the river’s natural flows would significantly—and negatively—effect its entire system, specifically harming many plants and animals.
  • Naturally fluctuating river flows are necessary for a healthy Gila River.
  • Flow changes throughout the year create and maintain diverse riparian forest and floodplain habitats.
  • Seasonal flows support a rich diversity of plants, birds, mammals and one of the few relatively intact populations of native fish remaining in the Colorado River Basin.

Scientists also found that seasonal changes in the river’s flows caused by diversion would trickle down to many critical natural processes, such as:

  • Impeding fish from swimming up- and downstream.
  • Reducing abundance of insects as a food source.
  • Decreasing survival of native cottonwoods and willows (due to a lack of groundwater).

And that’s not all. 

The report also assessed the impacts of climate change on the Gila River. Scientists expect an earlier peak for snowmelt runoff, lower annual stream flow and more extremes in the river’s flow patterns. 

Such events would create prime conditions for: 

  • Spreading of invasive species.
  • Reducing connectivity for plants and animals.
  • Warming water temperatures that disturb insect life cycles and breeding success of birds that rely on them for food.
WHAT’S NEXT

The Nature Conservancy’s hope is that we can continue working with others to maintain the Gila River’s natural flows. Working together—thanks to your generous support—we can secure its verdant forests and abundant wildlife, today and into the future.

Find out more about our conservation initiatives and how we’re working for nature and people on the Gila and other rivers in New Mexico:

Explore an infographic about how restoring forests will ensure clean water downstream Learn how we’re protecting and restoring the Colorado River.

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