June 2017

The Río Chama Watershed Congreso


Rosemary Romero


The second Río Chama Watershed Congreso was held in March at Ghost Ranch in Abiquiú, New Mexico. The congreso was convened to discuss issues related to watershed governance and to explore opportunities for broad collaboration to improve conditions in the watershed.


A congreso is an annual meeting where information is shared and everyone is welcome at no cost. For this congreso there was a combined benefit of science from agencies and nonprofits. Participants included the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions, acequia parciantes (water rights holders), conservation organizations, students and many others.


Steve Harris, project leader for the Río Chama Watershed Project, organized the gathering with help from Rosemary Romero, who acted as a facilitator for both congresos. A Bureau of Reclamation Water Smart grant was instrumental in making the congreso possible.


Addressing landscape issues so there will be fewer mudslides, lessening the danger from oil and gas development, and assuring that there is enough forage for wildlife were among the congreso’s interrelated goals. The organizers provided opportunities for the participants to gain a better understanding of the resources available to address ongoing issues and challenges; to network with project planners, practitioners and neighbors; to build trust, knowledge, connections and linkages, and to inspire new on-the-ground partnerships.


Two keynote addresses were given by well-known, respected writers. Bill deBuys, author of A Great Aridness; First Impressions; River of Traps; and Salt Dreams, noted that citizens have certain rights; that every right has a responsibility, and that no one has the right to treat the land badly and with malice.


Debuys highlighted his talk with photography showing changes in lands that have occurred from 1800s to the present. This gave the participants a perspective on how long it takes to damage landscapes in contrast to how long it takes for landscapes to recover. One set of photos from the Pecos high country indicated various stages of forest cover and clearly showed the impact of fire and drought above the tree line. Photos from 1925 showed poor range conditions and many fewer trees. Debuys asked, “When did the overgrazing happen? Some say that it was in the late 1800s, because regulations began to be implemented in the early 1900s. The health of the land improved, but then with World War II there was more unrestricted grazing to produce food for the war effort, and all stocking limits were lifted.”


The other keynote was by Lucy Moore, a mediator and facilitator, who read from her recent book, Common Ground on Hostile Turf, which focuses on lessons learned from her career. Moore’s insightful and compelling stories about resolving seemingly intractable conflicts by working together could provide inspiration to anyone caught in such disputes.


The day was punctuated with several panels coming from different perspectives, including landowners, conservationists, parciantes, forest planners and agencies with direct responsibility for managing river flows or water quality. All highlighted the need for responsible stewardship through partnership guided by long-range vision.


Lucia Sánchez, the Interstate Stream Commission’s state and regional water planner, highlighted her work as chair of the Río Chama Regional Water Plan and former Río Arriba County planning manager. Sánchez said that the key areas of focus for the Río Chama Regional Water Plan include drought, acequia infrastructure and promotion of local agriculture, watershed restoration, mutual domestic water and sanitation district infrastructure, data monitoring and management.


Sánchez said that strategies implemented in 2006 to meet future water demand are still relevant. She identified other current issues, including keeping water rights within the region, enhancing streamflow for the growing season, providing reliable community water supplies, protecting water quality, the conservation and reuse of water resources, and the protection and restoration of watersheds. 


The next congreso will be held in Abiquiú in 2018. For more information, contact Sánchez at 505.476.5397 or Lucia.Sanchez@state.nm.us



Rosemary Romero has co-written Watershed Plans for New Mexico. She is a former city councilor and planning commissioner for the City of Santa Fe.





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