What is a Watershed?

A watershed is an area of land in which all the water that falls on that landscape as rain, snow, or any other form of precipitation drains into a common body of water such as a stream, river, or lake. Wherever you are on the land surface of the earth, you are standing within a watershed. Watersheds vary in extent from small closed basins that surround our local arroyos up to large watersheds that include major tributaries to large rivers like the Rio Grande.

The Santa Fe Municipal Watershed

The Santa Fe River Watershed is 182,400 acres and is a sub-basin of the Rio Grande Watershed with its headwaters below Lake Peak at 12,408 feet within the Sangre de Cristo range. The Santa Fe Municipal Watershed consists of 17,200 acres within the upper Santa Fe River Watershed and is located in the public lands of the Santa Fe National Forest, part of which is designated as the Pecos Wilderness. The Santa Fe Municipal Watershed is closed to the public pursuant to a 1932 order from the Secretary of Agriculture and through an updated Special Prohibition by the Forest Supervisor in 1991.

The Santa Fe River begins in the upper reaches of the Santa Fe Municipal Watershed at Santa Fe Lake and runs 46 miles to the confluence with the Rio Grande. Downstream from the lake, the river picks up additional runoff from the watershed as it travels toward the City of Santa Fe's two man-made, potable water supply reservoirs. McClure Reservoir is located upstream of Nichols Reservoir. These reservoirs store surface water from the Santa Fe River for delivery to four acequias and for potable water treatment at the Canyon Road Water Treatment Plant. Treated water is conveyed to the City of Santa Fe Water Division's customers through the water distribution system.

Map of Santa Fe Municipal Watershed

The City of Santa Fe, New Mexico, is taking a proactive approach to safeguarding the Santa Fe Municipal watershed, having learned a lesson from the tragedy of the Cerro Grande fire of 2000. Using mechanical thinning of vegetation and prescribed burns to maintain the forest around its own municipal reservoirs, Santa Fe hopes to maintain the health of the watershed and prevent what could be catastrophic damage to the forest, the surrounding community, and the City of Santa Fe's high-quality, drinking water supply.

Like many cities throughout the western United States, Santa Fe’s water supply is dependent upon forest health and protection from catastrophic wildfires.  The Municipal Watershed Plan provides a framework and recommendations for long-term management, outreach, and funding for the Santa Fe Municipal Watershed. The plan addresses four areas critical to the maintenance of the municipal watershed: (i) vegetation management and fire use; (ii) water management; (iii) public awareness and outreach; and (iv) financial management based on customer rate payers' investment in ecosystem services.