Success on Santa Fe River Reflects Power of Partnership

By Nancy Stoner

One of the best parts of my job is when I get outside of Washington, D.C. to travel to see water issues firsthand and meet the wide spectrum of people involved in protecting waterways.

During a recent trip to New Mexico, I saw the incredible progress in improving the lower Santa Fe River over the past 10 years. Previously, grazing cattle prevented plants from growing along the river to filter pollution and provide wildlife habitat. An upstream wastewater treatment plant contributed to water quality problems. The result was a barren, erosion-prone stretch of the river with an unhealthy pH, too much sediment, and not enough dissolved oxygen.

Enter a diverse array of stakeholders: the New Mexico Environment Department, the County and City of Santa Fe, the Santa Fe Soil and Water Conservation District, the WildEarth Guardians and private landowners, as well as community volunteers and school groups. They all met me that day to celebrate the restoration.

And enter EPA’s 319 program under the Clean Water Act, which provides grant money to tackle water pollution problems through activities such as projects, training, technical assistance, education and monitoring. EPA made $175 million in grants available in 2011. I am sure that most readers aren’t in New Mexico, but here is a list of 355 similar success stories from 319 grants around the country.

For the lower Santa Fe River, about $257,000 in 319 grants from EPA led to about $320,000 in matching funds for projects. Fencing was installed to keep livestock out of the area. Native vegetation — more than 5,000 cottonwood trees and 15,000 willow trees – were planted to filter pollution and provide wildlife habitat. Levees were removed to allow water to reach the floodplain, wetlands were created, and outreach and education activities occurred. The result is a lush corridor and cleaner water, along with the return of waterfowl and beavers to the area.

The State of New Mexico has removed the pH and sediment impairments and is proposing to remove the dissolved oxygen impairment in 2012. You can read more here .

While the improvements to water quality and the natural environment are critical, what truly inspired me – and everyone standing along the river that day – is the story of partnership. The federal, state and local government, along with environmental groups and private citizens, all worked together. It shows that water is vital to all of us and success in stewardship is a collective effort.

About the author: Nancy Stoner is the Acting Assistant Administrator for the EPA’s Office of Water and grew up in the flood plain of the South River, a tributary of the Shenandoah River.

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