During extreme drought, three Middle Rio Grande Municipalities agree to water releases: Belen agrees to release 97 million gallons of water, Bernalillo and Los Lunas collectively agree to release 65 million gallons, and the Club at Las Campanas releases 97 million gallons from the Jicarilla Apache Nation to save critical areas along the Rio Grande.

SANTA FE, N.M. (July 17, 2018) – Today, Audubon New Mexico initiated the release of 324 million gallons of water into a 34-mile drying stretch of the Middle Rio Grande, augmenting vital streamflow needed to sustain century old cottonwoods, wetlands, birds and wildlife in stretches of the river that are experiencing severe drying due to drought conditions.

This water transaction involves the first-ever partnership between a non-governmental organization, Audubon, and municipalities for restoring flows on the Rio Grande in New Mexico.

The flow comes at a time when half of New Mexico is experiencing extreme drought and the Rio Grande is facing severely dry conditions, with climatic conditions not seen since the unprecedented drought of 2003, and over 30 miles of dry river south of Albuquerque. While western water has long been marked with conflict, the ongoing drought has ushered in a new era of cooperation, especially along lifeline rivers like the Rio Grande and Colorado, where government agencies, communities, tribes and businesses are working together to maintain flows. This project demonstrates how innovative and voluntary solutions are key to restoring rivers and protecting the ecosystems and economies they support.

“This marks a historic partnership where municipalities have joined with Audubon to help restore a vibrant ribbon of life. We are extremely grateful to work in partnership with these cities and all of the communities and institutions that advocate for the importance of healthy rivers,” says Paul Tashjian, Associate Freshwater Director of Audubon New Mexico. “The future of our Rio Grande is greatly dependent on what we do in the next decade. An alive and flowing river keeps New Mexico beautiful, provides water for important birds such as the Southwestern Willow Flycatcher, and keeps water flowing to our urban and agricultural communities.”

To direct and maintain flow to a specific 34-mile reach of drying river channel through Isleta Pueblo, Los Lunas and Belen for an anticipated 55 days, Audubon partnered with the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the Pueblo of Isleta, and the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority. Mike Hamman, the Chief Executive Officer of the MRGCD, in recognition of this unique partnership states that, “the District is pleased to do its part in assuring that this water helps to maintain important ecological resources below the Isleta Dam as we deliver water to our farmers. The efforts of many illustrates how, when working together, multiple benefits can be achieved through optimizing what water is available during this historically dry year.”

“Mayor Cordova of Belen, Mayor Torres of Bernalillo, and I are committed to managing water resources as efficiently as possible. As a result, even in a dry year, we have resources to meet community needs and to augment flows in rural areas of the Isleta and Los Lunas reach along the Rio Grande,” says Mayor Griego of Los Lunas. “We are all pleased to partner with a reputable non-profit organization like Audubon to allocate water resources to the Rio Grande especially in a year of such unprecedented shortage.”

By maintaining river flows within the Isleta Pueblo reach, river restoration and conservation projects invested in by the Pueblo are supported, contributing to the overall health of Isleta’s river and Bosque habitats which are critical to the Pueblo’s cultural practices and land management values. “The Pueblo of Isleta supports water management collaboration in the Middle Rio Grande, and is encouraged that this type of voluntary cooperation has become more frequent amongst stakeholders in recent years. Our landscape doesn’t stop at geopolitical boundaries, and so it takes a team to ensure good stewardship of the land. We are proud to be part of this partnership,” says Lt. Governor Max Zuni.

The Rio Grande Corridor in New Mexico is an important migratory, wintering, and nesting corridor within the arid intermountain west that supports over 200,000 waterfowl, 18,000 greater Sandhill Cranes and tens of thousands of other water birds and shorebirds. The Rio Grande delta above Elephant Butte Reservoir is home to the largest number of contiguous breeding territories for both the endangered Southwestern Willow Flycatcher and the threatened Yellow-billed Cuckoo in their entire range (with the Gila River in New Mexico a close second). Yet over 80% of the historic wetland and riparian habitats of the Corridor have been lost and more than one-third of the Rio Grande’s 465-mile length in New Mexico is subject to even more river drying annually, including reaches within the Middle Rio Grande.

This first-of-its-kind water release was made possible through the generous investments from the Bonneville Environmental Foundation (http://www.b-e-f.org/) and The Coca-Cola Foundation.

About Audubon
The National Audubon Society saves birds and their habitats throughout the Americas using science, advocacy, education and on-the-ground conservation. Audubon's state programs, nature centers, chapters and partners have an unparalleled wingspan that reaches millions of people each year to inform, inspire and unite diverse communities in conservation action. Since 1905, Audubon's vision has been a world in which people and wildlife thrive. Audubon is a nonprofit conservation organization. Learn more at www.audubon.org and @audubonsociety.

Audubon New Mexico: As the state office of the National Audubon Society, Audubon New Mexico’s mission is to conserve and restore natural ecosystems, focusing on birds, other wildlife, and their habitats for the benefit of humanity and the earth’s biological diversity. Audubon New Mexico is the leader in the state on innovative programs to restore nature’s share of water. In partnership with irrigation districts, tribal nations, municipalities and senior water users, Audubon has implemented first-of-its-kind voluntary water transfers and modernized water policies to restore vibrant ribbons of river habitat benefiting more than one hundred miles along the Rio Grande and its tributaries. Combined with transforming habitat along the river through volunteer-based restoration projects, we seek to address key water-related challenges by advancing balanced solutions to water use in New Mexico securing a greater share of water for birds, other wildlife, and the people and communities that depend on them.

How you can help, right now