Public Utility Invests in Forest Restoration

Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Authority advances water security initiative with $1M

Albuquerque | June 12, 2017

For the first time, a public utility is making a significant investment in The Nature Conservancy-led Rio Grande Water Fund. As part of its recently adopted Water 2120 Plan, the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority (Water Authority) is providing $1 million over five years to support forest restoration in key watersheds that supply water to the city. On-the-ground projects funded will span a geographic range from Albuquerque to Taos.

Water is essential for life and for our livelihoods. Nowhere is that truer than in New Mexico, where forested mountains serve as nature’s water storage and filtering facilities. Today’s harsh reality, however, is more frequent and severe wildfires. This can lead to flooding that degrades our rivers, streams and other critical water sources, threatening our future water supply.

Forest restoration—thinning overcrowded trees and removing undergrowth that serves as fuel—makes forests safer and healthier. “In just the first two years of the Rio Grande Water Fund, we’ve already tripled the annual average of trees thinned,” explains Laura McCarthy, The Nature Conservancy’s New Mexico associate director. “This collaborative effort benefits both people and nature, and with the Water Authority now on board we expect to see even greater results.”

The Water Authority’s participation in the Rio Grande Water Fund reflects the community’s evolving attitude toward water resources management. Once one of the biggest per capita water users in the West, Albuquerque has now embraced conservation and developed a comprehensive plan to replenish groundwater supplies amid population growth. Urban conservation efforts decreased water use by nearly 10 billion gallons a year, and the sustainable addition of surface water to the local supply has helped boost aquifer levels by more than 20 feet in some places. The Water Authority’s policy priority is to maintain the aquifer—where water is safely stored underground—as a long-term resource.

“We’re proud of how far we’ve come in securing water for a growing population in an arid climate,” says Maggie Hart Stebbins, Bernalillo County Commissioner and member of the Water Authority Board. “This collaboration with The Nature Conservancy takes a broader view to ensure future generations have enough clean water to thrive. The surface water we use for drinking travels more than 200 miles from its source to our customers. Improving forest health in our watershed along that route is a key part of our water plan.”

In addition to improving forest health, the Rio Grande Water Fund is creating new jobs, protecting communities, educating youth about the connection between forests and water and supporting New Mexico’s recreation industry.

The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world's toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in 72 countries, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit or follow @nature_press on Twitter.

Contact information

Tracey Stone

The Nature Conservancy in New Mexico