Living Rivers Program

Working in partnership with water users, managers and scientists, our Living Rivers Program focus on protecting important freshwater habitats and expanding our influence over New Mexico water law and policy.

A Rare & Precious Resource

Freshwater ecosystems are essential to human life. They provide a wealth of natural services, including cleansing the waters that flow through them, delivering nutrients to floodplains, wetlands, and estuaries, and moderating floods and droughts. They enrich our lives with beauty, providing places for recreation and spiritual connection. The program addresses the needs of New Mexico’s most important waters, and represents initiatives in different stages of development, from mature, multi-stakeholder efforts to small, beginning partnerships with local landowners.

The Colorado River Initiative

Like most working rivers, the Colorado is stressed – it no longer flows to the sea, many of its fish are endangered, invasive species like tamarisk trees steal huge amounts of its flow, and frequent droughts bring uncertainty to the future of its major water users across seven states.  The Conservancy in New Mexico is working to protect three of the most important tributaries of this epic river, the San Juan River, Rio Nutria and Gila River, while partnering throughout the region to sustain the Colorado itself. 

Gila River: New Mexico’s Last Free-flowing River

The Gila River is home to extraordinary biodiversity and a thriving farming & ranching community. The Gila River was recently declared one of ‘America’s Most Endangered Rivers’ as new water diversions authorized under the Arizona Water Settlement Act threaten to remove 14,000 acre feet of the river’s water every year. In addition to our long-standing steward and community outreach work, we are a key part of the “Gila Stakeholders Planning Process,” working to reduce the ecological impacts of water diversions while protecting water supplies for local communities and agriculture.

The San Juan River: Breathing Life Back into ‘the Four Corners’ River

The San Juan River slices through the canyon country of Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah. Oil and gas drilling, continued water development, and reservoir operations threaten native fish and their habitat, while invasive species such as tamarisk impair habitat connections and use precious water. The Conservancy works with many partners as a part of the San Juan Recovery Implementation Program.

The Rio Nutria and Mimbres Rivers: Rare Waters and Unique Species

The Conservancy works to protect irreplaceable habitat for two threatened fish that occur nowhere else in the world, the Zuni bluehead sucker in the Rio Nutria and the Chihuahua chub in the Mimbres River. In collaboration with the State of New Mexico and the United States Forest Service, the Conservancy has protected more than 20 miles of the Mimbres River, and manages the Mimbres River Preserve. On the Rio Nutria, the Conservancy works with the Zuni Pueblo and the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish secure funding to protect these ecological treasures from habitat destruction.

The Santa Fe River: Protecting Water Supplies and Recreation

The Santa Fe is threatened by development and diversions, but The Nature Conservancy’s efforts have resulted in the protection of 335 acres of remnant bosque willows and cottonwood.  The Conservancy is also working with the County Open Lands and Trails Policy Advisory Committee to create a world class recreational and watershed protection effort in the heart of the greater Santa Fe area.

Learn more about The Nature Conservancy’s freshwater conservation tools, training, and publications here.


River Ecosystem Restoration Initiative (January 2010)

The New Mexico River Ecosystem Restoration Initiative The River Ecosystem Restoration Initiative ("RERI") was established as part of Governor Richardson’s “2007 Year of Water” legislative agenda. The RERI is designed to sustain, re-establish and rehabilitate the integrity and understanding of New Mexico’s river ecosystems through the enhancement of physical, chemical and biological characteristics. Since 2007 twenty-seven projects have been funded to restore 2,394 riparian acres and 33 river miles. New Mexico has awarded over $5 million through 27 RERI grants and this has yielded an additional $3 million from in-kind contributions and leveraged another $3 million from federal and private restoration funding sources. RERI funded projects have created 222 full-time, part-time and temporary private sector jobs.

Download file (4.5 MB) Freshwater Status (December 2007)

A slideshow depicting the health of New Mexico's Rivers. The Nature Conservancy partnered with New Mexico Game and Fish, New Mexico Environment Department, and Natural Heritage New Mexico.

Download file (7 MB)

Links & Resources

San Juan River

Learn more about the San Juan Recovery Implementation Program, a collaborative effort to recover two endangered fish, the Colorado pikeminnow and razorback sucker, and provide Endangered Species Act compliance for legal water development and management.

The Navajo Nation Division of Natural Resources manages, protects, conserves and preserves the Navajo Nation's natural and cultural resources. Learn more about water rights & management and the Navajo Nation Water Rights Settlement Act

Gila River

Read about the Governor's efforts to protects the Gila River.

Learn more about the Gila River and the Arizona Water Settlement Act

Rio Nutria

Pueblo of Zuni is a national leader in the management of endangered species and migratory birds, riparian restoration, wetlands protection, and tribal use of eagles.


March 2010 New Mexico Environmental Flows Workshop Reportwhich was co-sponsored by TNC. Adrian Oglesby, formerly of TNC-NM, prepared this report for the Utton Center of the University of New Mexico Law School. The goal of the workshop “was to inform a wide range of policy-makers, agency managers and stakeholders of current directions in environmental flow management in the Southwest. The purpose was to address ecological and structural impacts to New Mexico’s rivers caused by changes in flows. The Workshop gave an overview of on-going flow programs in New Mexico and explored the state of the science and existing data. The Workshop explored the issues involved in trying to balance consumptive and environmental uses of water from various perspectives.”