The Rio Chama Basin: Land, Water, and Community

Research Reports & Archives
Compiled and edited by José A. Rivera and Moises Gonzales

Center for Regional Studies, University of New Mexico
Resource Center for Raza Planning, UNM School of Architecture & Planning


The body of work presented in this volume resulted from a National Science Foundation multi-year award in the fall of 2010 as part of the NSF Dynamics of Coupled Natural-Human Systems Program, Grant No. 101516. The project was titled: Acequia Water Systems Linking Culture and Nature—Integrated Analysis of Community Resilience to Climate and Land Use Changes. The grant was made to New Mexico State University with a sub-award to the Center for Regional Studies (CRS) at the University of New Mexico (UNM). The main purpose of the research was to study the components of resilience within coupled hydrologic and human systems in the northern Rio Grande watershed of New Mexico with a focus on traditional uses of water by acequia communities. The study sites for the project included the Rio Hondo Valley in Taos County, the Alcalde stretch of the main stem Rio Grande near Española, and the El Rito Valley in the Rio Chama basin.

At the Center for Regional Studies, the UNM research team selected the Rio Chama drainage as a geography that lent itself to the study of a multicultural society in a regional basin reflecting the dynamics of change at temporal and spatial scales. In the CRS sub-award scope of work, the major deliverables included graduate student research reports, a journal article co-authored by a team of faculty and graduate students, a social-ecological history of the Rio Chama basin, and an inventory of land covers and water bodies in maps. All of these goals were accomplished by the fall of 2015, and most of the work was subsequently compiled into this 2016 edited volume titled: The Rio Chama Basin--Land, Water, and Community. From inception, the Resource Center for Raza Planning (RCRP) at the UNM School of Architecture and Planning collaborated with the Center for Regional Studies providing mapping and technical support. With grants from the McCune Foundation, RCRP organized summer programs that were based in El Rito and other locations along the lower Rio Chama and its confluence with the Rio Grande. The RCRP projects complemented the NSF coupled natural and human systems research program and were subsequently edited for inclusion in this compiled volume.

The first section of the volume features two monographs, one that narrates the social-ecological history of the Rio Chama basin from Pre-Columbian times into the modern era, and a second one that focuses on land claims and homesteads within the Santa Fe National Forest from 1906-1937. The second section contains articles on the roots of community in the historic Rio Arriba region with a focus on mutualism, cultural endurance and resilience; a case study of the Petaca land grant at the time of review by the U.S. Court of Private Land Claims; and a published journal article on the use of qualitative and visualization methodologies as tools for regional water planning. The third section includes a series of graduate student projects that examined the cultural evolution, landscape morphology and land use change in Rio Arriba County. This section also contains a field school report for the economic development of the Rio Arriba Indo-Hispano homeland; a related study that documents querencia and place-based community planning,; and a preservation plan for the Pueblo de Abiquiú developed by a summer urban design studio. The fourth and last section of the volume incorporates geographic mapping data for the reader to consult as supplementary material: (a) an aerial imagery and figure ground study of local communities; (b) a series of land cover maps with river systems, natural features and place names; (c) 1935 aerial maps of Rio Arriba County; and (d) hydrographic survey maps of Rio Chama sections and tributaries.


The principal investigator for the NSF award at New Mexico State University was Alexander Fernald, assisted by co-principals José Rivera at UNM, John Wilson at the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, and Vincent Tidwell at Sandia Laboratories. Other partners in the research included the New Mexico Acequia Association, the Taos Valley Acequia Association, the El Rito Acequia Association, the El Rito Regional Water and Waste Water Association, and the Alcalde Acequia Association. At UNM we thank the Center for Regional Studies Director, Tobías Durán, for sponsoring the NSF CNH sub-award and also for his many years of support that funded a multitude of land and water projects in context of the American Southwest. The sub-award budget was administered by Marina Cadena, CRS Unit Administrator. We thank Marina for processing the accounting documents and other paperwork needed to implement the Rio Chama study. We also acknowledge the UNM graduate students who conducted research for the project during the five-year NSF award and whose work we incorporated for inclusion in this volume: Sam Markwell, J. Jarrett García, Marcos A. Roybal, Sophia Thompson, and Roberto H. Valdez. Assistant Professor Moises Gonzales, Director of the Resource Center for Raza Planning at the UNM School of Architecture and Planning, served as a collaborator and along with many of his graduate students he provided mapping and other technical support to the research team. A special thanks to graduate student Alex Ochoa who assisted with the production of maps and figures selected for this volume.


José A. Rivera, Research Scholar, Center for Regional Studies and UNM Professor of Planning, School of Architecture and Planning

Moises Gonzales, Director of Resource Center for Raza Planning and UNM Assistant Professor of Planning, School of Architecture and Planning

Collections in this community

Recent Submissions

View more