Thursday, August 6, 2009: 1:30 PM-5:00 PM
Acoma/Zuni, Albuquerque Convention Center
Mary J. Harner
Teresa M. Tibbets
Jennifer J. Follstad Shah
Mary J. Harner
The Middle Rio Grande (MRG) in central New Mexico, USA, has sustained human civilizations in an arid landscape for thousands of years. While the MRG has supported irrigated agriculture for hundreds of years, wide-spread alterations to the river’s morphology and flows have occurred during the 20th century. Demands for water have increased dramatically to support agriculture, industry, and drinking water supplies. For example, Albuquerque, which is located on the MRG, is currently the 6th fastest growing city in the US. The city historically relied on the aquifer for drinking water, but depletions have made this unsustainable, and now Albuquerque obtains drinking water diverted from the San Juan and Chama Rivers. Along with changes in availability of water, there is rising concern about water quality, as increasing proportions of the river’s base flow come from return flows of waste-water treatment facilities. The over-appropriation of water in the face of potential reductions in river flow due to climate change could exacerbate these issues. The surrounding floodplain forest, locally known as the bosque, has also undergone dramatic changes over the last century. Historically dominated by a mosaic of wetland and forested habitats, riparian areas are now dominated by senescent cottonwood forests and dense stands of non-native trees, notably salt cedar and Russian olive. As densities of invasive species increase, managers have become concerned about effects on water use and contributions to fuel loads for wildfires. The river and riparian ecosystems provide a life line of critical habitats through the center of an otherwise arid environment. Species dependent on these habitats and services provided by the ecosystem are at risk, as demands for water and encroachment on habitat continue as the human population increases.
This session will focus on prospects for long-term ecosystem sustainability in the MRG. The session will open with an historical overview of research conducted along the river. This will be followed by talks about ecosystem monitoring, water quality, aquatic food webs, threatened and endangered species, invasive species, restoration projects, and effects of climate change on water availability. The session will conclude with a panel discussion or presentation that focuses on how we can apply this collective knowledge to sustain services that the river provides, such as availability of high-quality water, support of wildlife habitat, and provision of aesthetic and cultural resources.