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SF River project mostly survives high water

SANTA FE – The rush of water that roared down the Santa Fe River channel late Thursday afternoon did some damage to the Santa Fe River Greenway Project — where local officials previously had been worried about drought conditions — but there was no disaster.

“We finished this project last Friday and had a ribbon cutting. And its first test is a 100-year storm event,” Scott Kaseman, the Greenway Project manager for county government, said of Thursday’s storm. “It did show some weak points in the project that now can be addressed and fixed and that will only improve the project’s soundness and longevity.”

The joint project between the city and county is an effort to remove non-native vegetation from the riverbank and replace them with native cottonwoods, willows, shrubs and grasses. It also includes the construction of a multi-use trail along the river.

Roughly 3,000 willow clumps, made up of five to 10 stems, and 142 cottonwood saplings were removed from the La Cienguilla area west of the city and replanted on both sides of the river between Frenchy’s Field park and Siler Road in April.


Rushing water in the Santa Fe River, shown in an image from video, hits the dry riverbed south of Frenchy’s Field park in mid-city Santa Fe during Thursday’s thunderstorm. (Courtesy Santa Fe County)

Kaseman said a few of the transferred plants and two large existing cottonwood trees were washed away Thursday and recently seeded areas of the floodplain will have to be reseeded.

But the plants that withstood what was measured at between 1,500 and 2,000 cubic feet per second of water at its peak should bounce back and thrive. “It looks worse than it is,” he said.

Most of the damage was to six of 34 rock deflectors and two culvert overflow areas, which will have to be repaired. Kaseman said he couldn’t put a monetary figure on the damage until after he met with engineers and contractors on Monday.

Two months ago, amid drought conditions, Santa Fe city and county officials were looking for a way keep the vegetation watered to help establish their root systems ahead of the monsoon season. They had to abandon the original plan to release a “pulse” of water from city’s reservoirs in the spring to saturate the riverbanks due to below normal water levels in the reservoirs, the result of a dry winter and low snow pack.

The Santa Fe City Council was asked to consider other options to keep the trees watered, but, reluctant to use drinking water to water the plants while Santa Fe was in the midst of the drought, the council put off a decision.

Instead, Santa Fe County, which is in charge of an 8-mile stretch of the Greenway project from Frenchy’s Field to the wastewater treatment plant west of N.M. 599, was watering the area where the trees were planted using tanker trucks. The city will take over maintenance of that stretch of river in a year.