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Restoring a Broken River: The Rio Fernando de Taos Watershed

First Published by Green Fire Times,

November 29, 2018

By Shannon Romeling

Dry sections, E. coli bacteria, fire risk, sedimentation, polluted runoff, worn-down acequia systems, limited in-town access and bank impacts/modifications are just a few of the issues plaguing the Río Fernando de Taos.

The Río Fernando is the major drainage running east to west through the town of Taos, and plays a key part in sustaining wildlife, recreation and agricultural activities in the area. It has become an important flyway for bird migration, and habitat for river otters, coyotes and beavers. For generations, Taos Valley community members have recreated in the public lands of its upper watershed of Taos Canyon. Its occupants have relied on the natural resources of the Río Fernando de Taos for centuries, and its waters are as critical today to supporting irrigated agriculture and human communities as they were 300 years ago.

Despite its continued importance to Taoseños and their way of life, the health of the río has deteriorated and the community has been concerned for decades. Fortunately, diligent efforts are being undertaken to combat the threats and damage to our beloved river.

Formed in March 2017, the Río Fernando Revitalization Collaborative is a dynamic initiative comprised of groups, government and individuals working to bring the río back to life. Members include:

Amigos Bravos, Taos County, Taos Land Trust, Taos Valley Acequia Association, The Nature Conservancy, Town of Taos, U.S. Forest Service, the Taos Soil and Water Conservation District, and Trout Unlimited.

The collaborative is committed to improving water quality, respecting and strengthening acequia traditions and infrastructure, and expanding and improving pathways, recreational trails and parks.

Projects already underway include:

Water Quality Sampling in Partnership with Water Sentinels – Amigos Bravos and Water Sentinels have been sampling the Río Fernando since 2007. Numerous exceedances for parameters such as E. coli, dissolved oxygen, and specific conductance have been documented. You can volunteer for this program. Contact Amigos Bravos for details.Repairs to the main Río Fernando Acequia Headgate: The Taos Valley Acequia Association has identified several priorities for repairing aging acequia systems (irrigation ditches) of the Río Fernando. The first project involves upgrading the presa (small impoundment used to divert water at the headgate).  The Vigil Y Romo Acequia and Education: The Taos Valley Acequia Association is also working to restore the work on the Vigil Y Romo Acequia and is organizing education efforts on acequias and the importance of their use for the water table.Watershed Based Planning – Amigos Bravos has been working on water quality issues on the Río Fernando de Taos for over 12 years, stemming from community concerns. In the summer of 2016, the organization received funding through the New Mexico Environment Department’s (NMED) 319 grant program to do extensive monitoring of E. coli, source identification, and watershed-based planning in the Río Fernando watershed (to be completed in 2019).Microbial Source Tracking of the Río Fernando – This project will analyze species of E. coli in the river and improve the quality of the Watershed Based Plan to be completed in the summer of 2019. This is a project of the Río Fernando de Taos Revitalization Collaborative, and while there are three main goals of the collaborative, members agreed that bacteria contamination is a public health issue that should be dealt with immediately. Río Fernando Park Planning – The Taos Land Trust Park (20 acres) on the Río Fernando is currently starting year-two of its master planning process. The new park borders Fred Baca Park (Town of Taos) and includes seven acres of impaired wetlands plagued with invasive species. Restoration on these wetlands is part of the Park Plan. Sign up at to attend events, provide input on the Park Planning process and volunteer at the park.Río Grande Water Fund La Jara Wetland Restoration (headwaters of the Ríio Fernando) – The La Jara area was identified as one of 10 Wetland Jewels in the Carson National Forest. More information about the Wetland Jewels project can be found by going to In November 2017, Amigos Bravos received a grant from the Río Grande Water Fund for restoration in the La Jara Wetland Jewel.

How Can You Help the Río Fernando?

You are invited to volunteer, provide input and help this new collaborative effort that protects and restores the Río Fernando de Taos. Together we can bring the river back to life and connect people to the land and water they love.Inspect your septic tank every 3-5 yearsIf you rely on a domestic well for water—conserveIf you have surface water rights, consider irrigation.RecycleDispose of trash properlyMinimize off road vehicle crossingClean up your pet waste

For more information, contact Judy Torres of the Taos Valley Acequia Association: (575) 758-9461, or Rachel Conn of Amigos Bravos: (575) 758-3874,

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Shannon Romeling works for Amigos Bravos, a non-profit water conservation organization whose mission is to protect and restore the waters of New Mexico. She is also an Executive Committee member of the Río Grande Chapter of the Sierra Club.

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