Audubon Provides Water to Albuquerque’s Rio Grande Stretch to Protect Birds, Fish, and Communities

Through partnerships, Audubon helps to keep the Rio Grande alive in town.
A landscape of a river.
Rio Grande in New Mexico. Photo: Paul Tashjian/Audubon Southwest

Audubon Southwest brought 580 acre-feet (189 million gallons) of water leased from the local municipalities of Bernalillo, Belen and Los Lunas back to the Rio Grande to help the federally-endangered Rio Grande Silvery Minnow, many bird species and neighboring communities that rely on the river for recreation and solace.

Despite abundant 2023 spring flows, the Rio Grande was at risk of going dry in Albuquerque this year as a result of hot temperatures, a very dry monsoon and limited water storage in upstream reservoirs. In our part to assist with keeping our Rio Grande alive, Audubon Southwest brought water leased from the local municipalities into the Albuquerque section of the river as needed during the months of September and October, preventing the river from drying. This water bolstered the environmental water flows the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation released to help the federally endangered Rio Grande Silvery Minnow.

Last year, Albuquerque residents witnessed the drying of the Rio Grande through town, causing widespread concern over the river’s well-being, water supply, habitat for birds, and the future of our western river. While the Rio Grande annually dries south of Albuquerque, this was the first time that the Rio went dry in Albuquerque in more than 40 years. Like last year, this year’s threat of Albuquerque drying is concurrent with the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District running out of water for the valley’s farmers.

There is a misconception that if the farmers stopped irrigating, the river would have greater flow during times like these, but the Rio Grande and the valley’s farming community are interdependent. Flows released from upstream reservoirs for the farmers provide river flows and bolster water being released for the river’s ecology. Without these flows, there simply isn’t enough water to keep the river flowing—even through Albuquerque.

The water Audubon and the Bureau of Reclamation are bringing to the river flows through northern and central Albuquerque, sustaining the riverside communities and providing a lifeline to the Rio Grande Silvery Minnow and the numerous birds that rely on a wet river corridor. Birds like the Snowy Egret, Belted Kingfisher, and the Double-crested Cormorant utilize the Rio Grande corridor and rely on a flowing river.

These flows also benefit the Albuquerque community at large by providing the solace and beauty of a flowing river through our majestic cottonwood river corridor.

Audubon Southwest greatly values our partnership with New Mexico’s water management agencies, including the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District, the Bureau of Reclamation, and municipalities including Bernalillo, Belen, Los Lunas, and the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority. Bernalillo, Belen, and Los Lunas generously made some of their limited water available to us for leasing. The Water Authority provides storage space for our environmental water in Abiquiu Reservoir, which allows us to store our limited supply of environmental water during wetter times and release it during dry times -an essential function for battling our changing climate and protecting flows in rivers.

This year’s environmental water management activities, including Audubon’s contribution, help alleviate the adverse effects of river drying and lay the groundwork for future actions to save our imperiled Rio Grande.