The nationwide list is put together by American Rivers, a nonprofit that advocates for – and works to improve – watersheds across the country. On the list are big rivers, such as the Grand Canyon’s Colorado River and the Snake River in the Northwest. But New Mexico’s Rio Gallinas also made the list.
The Rio Gallinas is nestled in the mountains of Northern New Mexico. It eventually flows into the Pecos and provides water to Las Vegas, New Mexico along the way.
But in 2022, the land around the Rio Gallinas was hit hard by the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire. And that’s one of the big reasons it’s on the list.
“The Rio Gallinas faces numerous threats, including drought, reduced snowpack, and the myriad consequences from the fire. If we want to heal the Rio Gallinas and protect it in the future, the state and federal agencies must develop a long-term management approach that is community-driven, locally appropriate, and includes nature-based solutions,” American Rivers Associate Director of the Southwest River Protection Program, Rachel Ellis, said in a press release.
William Gonzales, a local with the Rio Gallinas Acequia Association, says that following the fire, the waterways were choked with ash. “Last year for instance, at the height of the monsoon, I was hauling water for my cows because I wasn’t sure of the water quality of the river,” Gonzales said. “I was afraid that maybe it would harm my livestock.”
But it’s not just the recent fire that caused concern. The American Rivers report says that over the last 20 years, drought, declining riparian health, and increased demands from humans is threatening the river.
So, what does American Rivers suggest for improvements? The group suggests a long-term management plan. And William Gonzales says the recent fires have opened the door to better care of the watershed.
“Our watershed was really not in the best condition as far as tree canopies,” Gonzales said. “This is an opportunity for us to build something better.” In particular, he points to better management by federal land stewards.