THE RETURN OF THE RIVER
Writers, Scholars, and Citizens Speak on Behalf of the Santa Fe River
It is my distinct pleasure to add a few words to this collection of voices speaking on behalf of the Santa Fe River. I am excited to be Mayor of Santa Fe at a time when residents are not only conscious, but fully accepting of the challenge of leaving a sustainable community to future generations of our 400-year-old city.
As a boy growing up in Santa Fe, the river—a resource that had provided joy and sustenance for centuries—was mostly ignored or treated as a problem by post-WWII engineering and development practices. I didn’t know it then, but our river was rapidly dying. To meet the community’s needs for water, we dammed the river and drilled wells in the alluvial aquifers along the river with no thought about conservation. While depleting the flow and the aquifer, we channeled our river so that development could crowd ever closer to its banks. We paved giant parking lots for new malls and directed pollution toward the river. As the water table dropped, the Santa Fe River eroded over 25 feet and nearly disappeared from view.
How ironic that the environmental consciousness that we were developing as a community and nation in the 1960s and 1970s led to the protection of rivers and streams around the State of New Mexico by the federal Clean Water Act while providing no protection for our river in Santa Fe. By the 1990s, the Santa Fe River was considered a storm water chute, not a river.
Fortunately, the river was not forgotten by all. Through the 1980s and 1990s small groups of residents worked and lobbied to restore it. Though a living river was often dismissed as a pipe dream, activists who believed in the cultural, ecological and historical importance of the Santa Fe River kept working. A master plan was developed, the Santa Fe Watershed Association was formed, and federal, state and local governments came together to study and improve the river and surrounding watershed.
Today, due to many decades of work and perseverance, we have a living river above Santa Fe in the National Forest and below Santa Fe in the La Cienega area. The challenge before us is the revival of a living river in the urban area throughout the City of Santa Fe. A growing number of residents, businesses and community organizations are coming together and have shown unprecedented action in making the dream of a living river a reality.
The Santa Fe Watershed Association has partnered with local businesses to clean and maintain sections of the river. The City of Santa Fe hired a River and Watershed Coordinator and reinstated the River Commission. We have contracted with ¡YouthWorks! on erosion control projects, helping young people not only respect and protect the environment in which they live, but also to develop job skills that will help them succeed in the future. A new segment of the River Trail was recently completed, and this summer we will begin river channel restoration and trail construction from the Camino Alire Bridge to Frenchy’s Park. Santa Fe County, working with citizen groups began restoration of the river channel in Agua Fria below the Santa Isidro Crossing.
Meanwhile, hundreds of people participate in river clean-ups and festivals. Santa Feans have become the most efficient water users in the United States, and rightly call for some of their conservation efforts to benefit the Santa Fe River. We have taken the step of becoming the first City in the state to set aside water for flow and the creation of a living river in town; in 2009, we released 700 acre feet into the river and plan to keep a minimum flow through the summer months.
Today, thanks to the people of Santa Fe, the river is no longer dying. It is returning as a valued community resource which will connect our community and serve as an indicator not only of the state of our watershed but also the health of our entire city. Children, youth, parents and seniors can all look to the river now and see their community becoming more alive, more resilient and more beautiful. Thank you to all the people who have kept the river alive and who will continue to work to make the Santa Fe River a living part of the community once again.