The headwaters of the Santa Fe River gather east of the City of Santa Fe in the high country of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The river and its watershed are made up of the main course of the Santa Fe River plus all of the streams, arroyos and water courses that flow into it. As the river flows through a developed, urban environment, the watershed gathers all of the waters that flow from the streets, parking lots, buildings, vacant lots and all of the front and back yards of the town. The entire watershed covers about 285 square miles. Everything within this area flows to, and is a part of, the river system.
For thousands of years people have visited and lived along the Santa Fe River. The river has provided for wildlife habitat, drinking water, irrigation, recreation and cultural needs. Historically, its flows have been perennial or nearly perennial. Today, the river channel runs dry for much of a typical year and is prone to damaging and dangerous flash floods. In April of 2007, the Santa Fe River was named America’s Most Endangered River by American Rivers, a Washington, D.C. based advocacy group. In June 2007, the New Mexico Heritage Preservation Alliance named the Santa Fe River as one of the state’s twelve most endangered places.
City Action to Make Improvements in the Watershed
In recent years, the people of Santa Fe – and city leadership – have developed a better understanding of the damage that has occurred within the river system. Also, there is a renewed appreciation for the potential environmental, aesthetic and social benefits of a healthier Santa Fe River. The City of Santa Fe (with Santa Fe County as an active partner) is now pursuing a broad range of actions to improve the river and its watershed.
In 2008 City residents approved a $30 million bond issue for park improvements and renovations. $2.3 million of the bond is earmarked for the Santa Fe River Park, El Parque del Rio. Work along the River Park will include planting new trees such as narrowleaf, mountain, lanceleaf, and valley cottonwoods; sandbar and coyote willows; oaks; appropriate exotics (non-invasive) such as frontier, accolade, and lacebark hybrid elms; and shrubs such as currant berries and gamble oak. New plantings and irrigation will provide cover, breeding areas, and stopover habitat for a wide array of species.
From the Camino Alire bridge (at Alto Park) to NM Highway 599, the City and County are working together to design and build a multiuse trail within the river corridor. Along this stretch of the river, substantial improvements are underway to stabilize and protect the river's channel and banks. These interventions will include: constructed features such as bank protection revetments and low-drop grade control structures; channel grading and contouring to widen the floodplain and slow flood waters; and an extensive riparian planting program to stabilize soils and control erosion while providing greenery, shade and wildlife habitat. Within the City limits alone, approximately $6,000,000 is currently allocated for river and watershed restoration.