Rivers are the arteries of life in
our arid landscape. Many activities threaten to dry up and
pollute our rivers. Forest Guardians' river campaigns focus
on ensuring that rivers have rights to their own waters
and that the diverse plants and animals that depend on these
waterways are protected. We work to reform archaic and wasteful
agricultural practices, change dam management to mimic natural
flows, limit new urban uses of water, protect clean waters
and clean up polluted ones and inspire people and communities
to reconnect and restore to our vital life-giving waterways.
The Rio Grande: A Once and Future Great
mythical Rio Grande is the cultural and ecological lifeblood
of our region. Today this Great River is in dire straights,
primarily because there are too many straws—agricultural,
municipal and industrial—tapping its limited supplies. As
a result, many of the more than 400 species of fish and
wildlife are in danger of extinction.
Forest Guardians is working to reform
federal and state policies, agricultural and municipal water
practices and build a new culture that respects and values
the Rio Grande as a living river.
Read about our recent success..
Agriculture Water Use: The Key to Living
The foundation of western water is
built on two fundamentally flawed premises. The first is
the notion that any drop of water left flowing in a river
is wasted. The second is that the majority of water diverted
from western rivers is used to flood irrigate water intensive
crops, primarily alfalfa, to provide forage for a livestock-centric
Our river reform efforts seek to
establish two principles to remedy this flawed paradigm.
First, we are working to establish the right the rivers
must have rights to their own waters and that instream flows
are a legitimate use of water. The second principle we are
working to assert is that the water intensive agriculture
–both because of the crops grown and methods used—is incompatible
with a healthy western culture that values its river and
healthy agriculture that stewards its water. At Forest Guardians,
we believe that we can not protect large rivers in the West
and create adequate flows for native wildlife and habitat
unless we confront the paradigm of water use in the West
that allows for water to be used inefficiently, wastefully
and irresponsibly on water intensive crops.
Diverting the Rio Grande, a report..
Preventing Pollution to Waterways
Delivering on the promise of the
Clean Water Act—that all streams and rivers are safe enough
for swimming and sustain native fish—continues to be one
of Forest Guardians highest priorities. We must keep clean
waters clean while working to restore polluted waterways.
Unfortunately, diffuse sources of pollution from a wide
range of activities have polluted more than half of New
Mexico’s streams, causing violations of state and federal
water quality standards. Forest Guardians has initiated
a series of lawsuits that seek to enforce the Clean Water
Act, supported agency actions and sought reforms in policies
that seek to upgrade standards and halt further pollution.
Our Clean Water Project also continues
to draw connections between public health and ecological
integrity of our waters. In a major victory for human health
and endangered fish, New Mexico adopted, for the first time
ever, stringent criteria for the highest priority toxic
pollutants. Rivers such as the Rio Grande, which not only
provide habitat for endangered fish but are also relied
upon for drinking water, will be cleaner as a result.
Confronting the Legacy of Dams
Though the era of big dam building
by the Bureau of Reclamation and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
is largely over, the damaging legacy of these dams is alive
and well. One of the biggest threats to healthy rivers are
dams. Dams destroy river and floodplain habitat in three
ways: first by modifying the natural hydrology, second by
reducing flows as waters are diverted, and third by flooding
river habitats. Many western rivers are on a slow and steady
path to ecological collapse because of the continued effects
of dams on river ecology.
Forest Guardians is working to ensure
that dams throughout the Rio Grande basin are managed significantly
better such that water releases mimic natural flows, thereby
restoring some of the natural dynamism of river ecosystems.
In addition, we believe some dams should come down and,
if necessary, replaced by other structures that allow for
water diversion and for rivers to be re-connected.
For specific questions about our conservation efforts,
contact Jim Matison,
River Restoration Director.