Upper Rio Grande Basin receives a “C” on the very first report card

Released one day ago

Submitted by World Wildlife Fund

Upper Rio Grande © Enrique Prunes

SANTA FE, NM, Nov. 18, 2022 /CSRwire/ — A group of leading ecosystem scientists and local advocates today gave the upper Rio Grande Basin a “C” on its first report card, noting that the overall health of the basin is in moderate condition and warning that there is not enough water to meet the needs of all users while maintaining a healthy river ecosystem.

The testimonial — developed by Audubon Southwest, University of Massachusetts Amherst, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, and World Wildlife Fund (WWF) — rates tank health at 54% through a novel approach that builds on social, economic, and environmental considerations Data. The report map is designed to help residents and policy makers better understand the health of their local water bodies

Upper Rio Grande © Enrique Prunes

“As New Mexicans and communities across the West face unprecedented drought and water challenges – the testimony is there and the Rio Grande Basin is experiencing the impacts of climate change and systemic change.” said Congresswoman Melanie Stansbury of the First Circuit of New Mexico. “That’s why the Senate needs to pass our Rio Grande Water Security Act and Water Data Act to empower our communities to transform how water is stewarded. I am grateful to researchers at the World Wildlife Fund, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and the Audubon Society for documenting the need for urgent action to protect our precious rivers for generations to come.”

“The witnessing effort on the Upper Rio Grande has brought important resources to our beleaguered but beautiful river at a crucial time,” said Paul Tashjian, director of freshwater conservation at Audubon Southwest. “The information gathered for the testimony and the associated analysis tools form a backbone for the development of meaningful resilience strategies.”

The Rio Grande/Rio Bravo has been named one of the ten most endangered rivers in the world. The basin suffers from limited water availability due to climate change, interstate water management issues, infrastructure, and increased water demands from a growing population.

“The Upper Rio Grande Basin has long been a link between ecosystems and cultures,” said Enrique Prunes, manager of the World Wildlife Fund Rio Grande. “The river has a unique power to transcend political boundaries. Through these efforts, we bring a diverse group of stakeholders together around a shared vision and assess its immense value.”

“Now more than ever we need to take a holistic approach and work with all water users in the Rio Grande system to do our best to balance the diverse needs along the river.” said Mike Hammam, New Mexico Office of the State Engineer. “Providing water to families and farmers, protecting unique habitats, and honoring interstate and international pact deliveries – all while climate change continues to increase the strain on the system.”

The report card evaluates four regions: (1) Upper Rio Grande: Colorado, (2) Upper Rio Grande: New Mexico, (3) Middle Rio Grande, and (4) Lower Rio Grande. All regions had moderate scores. Upper Rio Grande in New Mexico had the highest score, 57% a C+, and Lower Rio Grande had the lowest score, 41% a C-. Upper Rio Grande: Colorado and Middle Rio Grande also had C+ grades, 56% and 55% respectively.

The overall health of the basin is determined by 28 health indicators in four categories: water quality and quantity, management and governance, society and culture, and landscapes and ecology. Landscapes & Ecology had the highest score in the category, 61%, a B-. The other three categories performed moderately. Society & Culture scored 57%, a C+. Management & Governance scored 49%, a C. Water quality and quantity had the lowest score, 47%, a C.

“This Basin Health Report Map analyzes data to inform decision-making about restoration and management in Colorado, New Mexico and Texas.” said Alexandra Fries, program manager, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science. “Reports distill data into a grade similar to what students receive in schools. This helps communicate complex information in a way that a wide audience can easily understand.”

Upper Rio Grande © Enrique Prunes

The upper Rio Grande, which flows through New Mexico from its upper reaches in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado and ends in Ft. Quitman, Texas has been helping people and wildlife for thousands of years. More than 6 million people rely on its resources. Native American tribes, pueblos and Spanish acequias depend on the river for water, food and shelter. The river also supports the Chihuahuan Desert, one of the three most biodiverse deserts in the world. As one of the five longest rivers in the United States, an American Heritage River, and a Wild & Scenic River, the value of the Rio Grande as an important watershed for the people and species of the Southwest region is unmatched.

To determine how best to improve basin conditions, project partners developed a scenario modeling tool, the Upper Rio Grande Futures Model. Stakeholder workshops evaluated multiple management options, including reducing water transport losses, abandoning agricultural land, reducing municipal water demand, restoring reservoirs to operation, and prioritizing minimum ecological flows. The results show that a combination of these options can improve flow conditions in the Rio Grande. Promising options will be further refined and evaluated to identify a portfolio of interventions that will help improve tank resilience.

“The Upper Rio Grande Futures Model is a tool to move from the hypothetical to a data-based basis for the conversations that need to take place to make progress,” said Casey Brown, Provost Professor, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

“The Rio Grande Basin is unique in its multistate and binational nature, and it makes sense that approaches to dealing with transboundary issues in the basin are equally unique. This report provides important information for the upper and middle part of the region and paves the way for discussions and the development of guidelines and models that can later be applied at international level.” said Leslie Grijalva, Environmental Protection Specialist, Program Manager, Division of Environmental Management Rio Grande Clean Rivers Program, International Boundary and Water Commission, US Section.

“We at the Bureau of Reclamation welcome the development of the URG futures model, which can serve as a screening tool for possible adjustments to the growing water supply/demand gap,” said Dagmar Llewellyn, Planning Group Leader, Water Management Division. U.S. Bureau of Reclamations.

The Upper Rio Grande Basin Report Card reflects the collaborative effort of over 100 stakeholders managing the land, water and wildlife in the basin. The testimony is supported with funding from the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations.

Broll/Photos/Infographics can be found here.

To view the report card and for more information, please visit: www.riograndereportcard.org

Media contacts:

Sarah Foegel
World Wildlife Fund
[email protected]

Alexandra Fries
University of Maryland Center for Environmental Sciences
[email protected]

WWF is one of the world’s leading conservation organizations, working in nearly 100 countries to help people and nature thrive for over half a century. With the support of more than 5 million members worldwide, WWF is dedicated to providing science-based solutions to sustain the diversity and abundance of life on earth, halt environmental degradation and combat the climate crisis. Visit http://www.worldwildlife.org to learn more and keep up to date with the latest conservation news by following @WWFNews on Twitter and sign up for our newsletter and news alerts here.

The University of Maryland Center for Environmental Sciences is pioneering the better stewardship of Maryland’s natural resources and the protection and restoration of the Chesapeake Bay. From a network of laboratories across the state, UMCES scientists provide sound evidence and advice to help state and national leaders manage the environment and prepare future scientists for the global challenges of the 21st century. www.umces.edu.


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