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Rio Grande Watershed Health

A watershed is an area of land drained by a river, river system, or body of water and bounded by mountains or ridges of high land. Other terms to describe a watershed are basin or catchment, basically any topographic area where water drains. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states “We all live in a watershed—the area that drains to a common waterway such as a stream, lake, estuary, wetland or even the ocean—and our individual actions can directly affect it.” The EPA and its partners are working together on a watershed basis to protect the nation’s water resources. For more information about watersheds including the Watershed Academy, Surf Your Watershed, Adopt Your Watershed, Targeted Watersheds, etc., utilize the following link to EPA’s Watershed site -

The Albuquerque reach of the Rio Grande has been declared impaired by the NM Environment Department because the water quality does not support designated uses for the river.  Pollutants of concern for the Rio Grande include E. coli bacteria, oxygen depleting substances, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and gross alpha radiation sources.  A Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) document for E. coli was prepared in 2010 by the NM Environment Department, identifying needed reductions in bacterial discharges and encouraging watershed health improvement measures to achieve those reductions.  Similarly, Tijeras Creek, which drains the east mountain area within Ciudad SWCD and discharges to the Rio Grande, has also been declared impaired because of excessive nitrogen and phosphorus ("nutrient") loading.  Finally, Las Huertas Creek, a Rio Grande tributary in the eastern part of Ciudad SWCD, has been declared impaired because of excessive nutrient loading.  Click here to see our Frequently Asked Questions document about the Rio Grande-Albuquerque watershed.

Ciudad SWCD strives to protect and improve watershed health and resultant water quality within its District boundaries, as illustrated by the following activities: 
  • Ciudad SWCD has historically participated in the Rio Puerco Management Committee, whose goals are to reduce sediment, control erosion, and promote healthy vegetative communities along the Rio Puerco.
  • Ciudad SWCD has coordinated the development of two Watershed Restoration Action Strategies (WRAS), one for the Rio Grande-Albuquerque (2006) and one for Tijeras Creek (2004).  For information about sources of bacterial loading to the Rio Grande, please see the 2005 Middle Rio Grande Microbial Source Tracking Assessment Report.
  • Ciudad SWCD is a member of the Mid-Region Council of Governments Water Resources Board, and works with local and regional governmental entities to ensure adequate water quantity and quality in the middle Rio Grande watershed.  Click here to open the MRCOG WRB files library.
  • Steve Glass, Chairman of the Ciudad SWCD Board, also represents Bernalillo County on the Water Protection Advisory Board (WPAB), which advises the Bernalillo County Commission, the Albuquerque City Council and the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority on water quality issues.  Steve was elected Chairman of the WPAB for 2014.
  • For ten years, between 2003 and 2013, Steve Glass, Chairman of the Ciudad SWCD Board, represented local governments on the New Mexico Water Quality Control Commission, which sets water quality standards for water bodies statewide and promulgates regulations to protect groundwater across the state.
  • Ciudad SWCD participates as an advisory organization to the Middle Rio Grande Stormwater Quality Team, whose goal is effective public outreach and education around the topic of stormwater pollution.
  • Ciudad SWCD Supervisors provide in-school presentations for local 5th grade classes about watershed health and stormwater pollution prevention in conjunction with the annual RiverXchange program.  In addition, District Supervisors, staff and volunteers provide watershed training upon request with our Rolling River demonstration trailer.
  • Ciudad SWCD maintains the Rio Grande Clean Water Partnership Information Exchange as a resource for local watershed management agencies to share information and opportunities.
  • Ciudad SWCD in 2011 and 2012 coordinated a public outreach campaign about responsible septic system management, in support of the Middle Rio Grande Stormwater Quality Team.  A 2005 study showed that 16% of fecal coliform bacteria reaching the Rio Grande is form human sources, probably including mis-managed and failing septic systems.
  • Since 2010, Ciudad SWCD has participated actively with local stakeholders, with NMED and with EPA in developing one of the first watershed-based Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) permits in the U.S.  In the absence of EPA funding, Ciudad SWCD has successfully acquired several grants through the Clean Water Act Section 604(b) Watershed Planning program to fund the effort.  Using 604(b) funds, Ciudad SWCD employed Jessica Bennett, a master's student in Environmental Engineering at NM Tech in Socorro, to develop an algorithm using consensus-based watershed characteristics to determine the relative storm water pollution impact potential for jurisdictions in the Middle Rio Grande.  The resulting spreadsheet model, completed in 2013, allows jurisdictions to evaluate relative resource commitments when collaborating for storm water permit compliance programs.  The spreadsheet, along with other pertinent project documentation, is available in the project library here.
  • Beginning in 2013, Ciudad SWCD and partner organization the New Mexico Water Collaborative will design, permit and construct a green infrastructure facility to prevent stormwater pollution from a local business parking lot.  See our Green Infrastructure project page for more detail.
  • In 2019, Ciudad SWCD and partner organization finalized the Tijeras Creek Watershed Based Plan which has been approved by the EPA. The District has since been submitting various grant applications for project that are outlined in the plan. 
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