Last month, I visited with Governor Michael Chavarria and his staff at Santa Clara Pueblo to see how much progress the Pueblo has made in restoring Santa Clara Canyon, a cultural landscape that has sustained their community for generations.
PHOTO: U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich meets with Santa Clara Pueblo Governor Michael Chavarria, October 13, 2023.
The 2011 Las Conchas Fire—at the time the largest our state had ever experienced—burned approximately 80% of the forest within the Pueblo’s boundaries and dealt major damage to that 32,000-acre Santa Clara Creek watershed that runs through the canyon. Loose soil in the canyon and a lack of stabilizing vegetation following the fire led to dangerous erosion and flooding disasters during the 2012, 2013, and 2014 monsoon seasons, threatening the Pueblo’s entire village at the bottom of the canyon.
It was amazing to see such significant progress since my visits to Santa Clara in the immediate aftermath of the flooding disasters nearly a decade ago. The Pueblo has installed rock dams, log mattresses, and wire fences to catch floating debris while letting water flow through, placed gauges to track water levels and signal when upstream levels are getting too high, and planted a variety of wetland plants in hopes of getting healthy fish populations back into the streams.
PHOTO: U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich visits Santa Clara Pueblo to tour flood mitigation and watershed restoration efforts, July 2, 2015.
The Pueblo estimates that the fire and floodwaters that destroyed roads, water control structures, wildlife habitat, and tourism infrastructure resulted in $150 million in infrastructure damage.
Over the last decade, I have worked in close partnership with the Pueblo to deliver tens of millions of dollars in federal resources to repair Santa Clara Canyon. Five federal disaster declarations have provided vital federal resources to assist the Pueblo with reforestation and watershed restoration.
Last year, I welcomed the Biden administration’s commitment to deliver $40 million from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law for the Española, Rio Grande, and Tributaries Project, a major Army Corps of Engineers project that will restore and protect approximately 1,000 acres of aquatic and riparian habitat in the Rio Grande and its tributaries, including Santa Clara Creek.
There is still a lot of work ahead. But my visit to Santa Clara Pueblo gave me so much hope about how communities can recover from unthinkable disasters and build a stronger and more resilient future.