Clean Water for the Future

Rio Grande Water Fund Delivers Results

The Nature Conservancy-led Rio Grande Water Fund is securing clean water—today and for future generations. It’s an investment in nature with a triple bottom line: clean water, healthy forests and jobs. You can support this important work now.

The Nature Conservancy-led Rio Grande Water Fund launched two years ago to exponentially pick up the pace of protecting our forests in Northern New Mexico—and the water they provide for all.

What is a water fund? It's an innovative program where diverse partners work together to unite water users. No single agency can get the needed work done. By leveraging public and private funds and using innovative research, tools and alliances, we are protecting water and the natural capital we all depend on.

With proof of concept from the Santa Fe Watershed, we started small. Thanks to generous investors, today the Rio Grande Water Fund has 53 Charter signatories and has tripled the average acres restored compared to just four years ago. Together we are truly making a difference.

Across Northern New Mexico, key watersheds are now focal areas for critical planning needed to achieve long-term water security. People have newly created forestry jobs and important access to increased firewood. And students are learning by monitoring treatments that will keep our forests and water safe.

Matching the scale of watershed restoration to the impact of mega-fires that can turn our waterways black with debris is a key Water Fund objective. To reduce the likelihood of another catastrophic fire such as the 2011 Las Conchas event, partners are leveraging investments and coordinating activities to thin overgrown forests, manage fire, restore streams and rehabilitate areas that flood after wildfire.

In one example, the Greater Santa Fe Fireshed Coalition is scaling up efforts tenfold. Their collaborative planning will lead to the same on-the-ground activities but, thanks to the Water Fund, they’ll protect communities and water at a broader scale than ever before possible.

Donate today to restore our forests and help protect New Mexico from mega-fire >>

Tracking how forest treatments affect the surrounding environment is also an important piece of the Rio Grande Water Fund. That’s why we teamed up with the Forest and Watershed Restoration Institute at New Mexico Highlands University this year. A roving team of natural resource students monitored pre-and post-treatment conditions at seven sites in the Chama Peak Alliance project area—one plot for every 10 acres. Twenty more plots were monitored in the David Canyon area near Albuquerque. Results will help us learn how to change our restoration plans to fit new circumstances, if necessary.

The Doghead Fire has also presented a unique opportunity to measure conditions after treatment and wildfire. We will establish a few plots with multiple landowners to assess conditions in burned areas.

As luck would have it, a July 24, 2016 lightning strike on McGaffey Ridge, south of Taos, touched down in an area that Taos Valley Watershed Coalition partners had previously tagged as ideal for natural fire. Though the smoke plume loomed large over the Pot Creek community, the FireWise community kept their cool, knowing that several years of reducing crowded, woody debris around their homes would pay off.

That’s exactly what happened. The fire topped out at about 500 acres, improving habitat for wildlife and performing nature’s “cleansing” function—for about one-tenth the cost of thinning.

Children are a piece of this comprehensive project, too. More than 500 local students have had opportunities to learn how forests and their water are connected through hands-on environmental education.

One innovative program caught the attention of KUNM, which aired an “audio postcard” in July. Krista Bonfantine of Arid Land Innovation engaged 26 students, ages 16 to 24, in watershed monitoring at four sites. Before and after, participant quiz scores improved from a “C/D” to a “B+”—showing significant growth in students understanding the importance of watershed science.

Research projects supported through the Water Fund play a pivotal role in developing management plans. A new interactive map from the U.S. Geological Survey, for example, is helping forecast hazards from post-fire floods and debris flows in the Jemez Mountains. Viewers can zoom into specific areas to learn about the post-fire hazards.

In the Taos area, a tree-ring study is determining dates and frequency of past wildfires and identifying whether the fires burned hot or slowly along the forest floor. Knowing how fires burned in the past helps us plan for the future.

As the Water Fund has revved up, the need to quantify projected financial losses to property, goods and services from catastrophic wildfire has become ever more important. So economists who specialize in risk assessment and non-market valuation were called in to help and undertook a study for Taos County.

The “what if” study looked at damages in the event of wildfire, comparing projected losses under current (and untreated) conditions, with forests already restored. The conclusion? Fires cause substantially less damage to healthy, restored forests and all the life they support. To verify results, two representative fires were modeled and—even with conservation assumptions—a positive cost/benefit ratio was supported.

The Water Fund also boosted local economies this year by generating several jobs. Plus an additional 60+ people continue to work on thinning in the Isleta Project area that the Water Fund supported in 2015.

TC Company was awarded a 5-year stewardship contract for the Southwest Jemez Mountains Landscape Restoration Project. To harvest and market the new wood supply generated by restoration treatments, owner Terry Conley (above left) says his staff will double as he ramps up to complete the contract work. The stewardship contract,” says Conley, “brings the stability needed to pay decent wages and run quality equipment in the woods.”

Walatowa Timber Industries (WTI)—a joint venture between the Pueblo of Jemez and Terry Conley—will also double their staff this coming year. WTI sells lumber, latillas, vigas, mulch and firewood, and provides raw materials to local sawmills. In just four years, the company has increased annual processing from 100 loads of wood to more than 600.

Combined with healthier forests and wildlife habitat—and cleaner, more secure water for more than 1 million people—the above stewardship contracts illustrate the Rio Grande Water Fund’s triple bottom line:

• Forests and waterways are healthier, providing critical habitat and cleaner air
• Precious water sources are protected from devastating mega-fires
• Economy-boosting jobs and wood products are made available for people

We need your help to secure clean water—today and for future generations>>

Download the 2016 Annual Report>>

Rio Grande Water Fund Main Page>>


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