Audubon New Mexico released a report on the heels of a visit here by Interior Department Secretary Ken Salazar. The study argues that restoring natural streamflows will bring environmental and economic benefits.
Dams, reservoirs, and levees are all tools used to alter the natural flow of a river for crop irrigation, drinking water and industrial use. The benefits are substantial. But they also create major changes to the natural flow pattern of New Mexico’s rivers and streams.
Audubon’s report found that the Rio Grande at Embudo and also at Albuquerque are among the most vulnerable stretches of New Mexico’s rivers. What’s at stake is a loss of riparian forests, wetlands and wildlife and increased water pollution.
Those could also bring economic losses from decreased recreation value. The Outdoor Industry Foundation found that activities such as fishing, paddling and wildlife viewing are directly related to river health. And these activities support 47,000 jobs and contribute $3.8 billion dollars to New Mexico’s economy.
Among the report’s recommendations are authorizing voluntary water rights transfers to restore streamflows and integrating environmental flows into regional water planning and management. The report also highlights successful collaborative projects underway on the San Juan River and the Rio Chama.
The full report, “Hanging in the Balance: Why Our Rivers Need Water and Why We Need Healthy Rivers,” is online.