In 2011, a downed power line sparked the massive Las Conchas wildfire that roared through homes and scorched 156,000 acres of forest in the Jemez Mountains. And that was just the beginning of the damage. In the weeks that followed, rains washed tons of ash and sediment off the blistered slopes into the Rio Grande, forcing the city of Santa Fe to shut down a river diversion system for six weeks.
The fire’s impact on a major Santa Fe drinking water source is a big reason city officials are now considering joining a collaborative brought together by The Nature Conservancy to thin and burn thousands of acres over the next 20 years in mountain ranges that drain water into the Rio Grande. The partnership hopes the plan will reduce the kind of catastrophic wildfires that wreaked havoc in the West over the last several years.